A 'lovely, kind man with a heart of gold' who made an incredible journey to sobriety took his own life by overdosing on drugs as he 'struggled with lockdown', an inquest into his sudden death heard.
Shaun Hillam, who previously worked in a carpet factory in Ramsbottom, was unexpectedly found dead in his flat on June 16 last year alongside blister packets of medication he had been prescribed and 'suicide notes'.
The 54-year-old's death came as a shock to his loved ones who had seen him fight his way out of more than a decade-long drug addiction, before dedicating his time to his local community where he lived in Chapelfield.
Emotional tributes have since been paid in the wake of the death of the award-winning 'community hero', as he spent 'countless hours making his estate look fantastic as a volunteer gardener' and fought for his neighbours as a member of the local tenant and resident association.
Shaun was born in the Walshaw area of Bury, sister Wendy Hillam told Rochdale Coroners Court as the inquest into his death resumed today, April 14.
He attended local schools and was 'very clever', but experienced a 'difficult' upbringing that caused him to leave home at just 14 years old.
Shaun would sleep at friends' homes and managed to get a job in a carpet factory in Ramsbottom before training in catering as he 'enjoyed cooking'.
But drug addiction reared its head in Shaun's life from an early age.
Shaun would sniff markers and glue as a youngster, according to Wendy. Then, after beginning his career in catering, the brother and sister fell out of touch for 'a number of years' as Shaun began injecting heroin.
"He started using drugs as an escape from life, all he wanted was his mum to love him," said Wendy while giving evidence in court.
"He lived in hostels for around 16 years, but then managed to get his own flat."
It was then that Shaun decided to turn his life around.
Shaun turned to community gardening in his new neighbourhood and, along with getting a puppy named Charlie, he managed to stop his years of drug abuse. The two passions ultimately 'saved his life'.
"He loved community gardening and was very proud of it. He had Charlie, his dog which he worshipped, it was like he was Shaun's baby. He took him to puppy training," Wendy added.
"He had been a total mess, getting involved in crime to pay for drugs. He was proud of how far he had come, he was really able to turn his life around."
Shaun got involved in community activity, entering grow-your-own competitions and volunteered for the Chapelfield Tenant and Resident Association (TRA) in Radcliffe where he lived for ten years, eventually becoming its chairman for two years.
Shaun was also an active member of Six Town Housing’s Customer Review Group, providing feedback on services delivered by the organisation to help them improve and adapt to the needs of tenants living in the 8,000 homes they manage on behalf of Bury Council.
Shaun won the Community Rock category at Six Town Housing’s Community Heroes Awards in November 2019, in recognition of his 'selfless work supporting neighbours'.
The 54-year-old hoped one day to have a family of his own, also enjoying being the 'Father Christmas' for the community every year.
"Shaun was really able to turn his life around," continued his sister.
"He loved feeling like he was needed and loved."
Tragically, when the coronavirus lockdown hit, a 'combination of things' caused him to relapse.
"Council meetings had stopped taking place, he wasn't attending anything like that. Shaun had too much time on his hands, he didn't have enough things occupying his mind," Wendy told the court.
To make matter worse, Shaun then began receiving text messages 'encouraging him to take drugs' from someone he knew.
"Shaun wasn't interested," said Wendy. "He wasn't going down that road again."
But the weekend leading up to Shaun's death, his sister called him and realised the person who had been sending him the messages offering to to fix him up with drugs was at Shaun's flat for at least two days.
Wendy feared the pair had been 'on a bender' together.
Over the phone, however, Shaun 'did not sound under the influence', according to his worried sister.
The day before his body was found, neighbours began to get worried as the typical 'don't forget to put your bins out' message Shaun would send weekly to the residents' group text chat never appeared.
Shaun was also not seen sitting outside next to his planters, as he would usually be each morning.
On June 16, a concerned next-door neighbour went round to Shaun's flat in Stand Lane and discovered him dead.
The community was left rocked by the finding and gathered in the street to pay their respects.
A post mortem examination was carried out and found that Shaun had several medications he had been prescribed in his system, including a pain killer at 'fatal levels', as well as cocaine and alcohol. The drugs and alcohol had a 'depressive effect' on his respiratory and pulmonary system when taken together.
Shaun had also left behind a number of notes which said he had 'let people down', that 'he loved his girlfriend' and that he had been 'encouraged to start taking drugs again'.
Evidence from his GP stated that Shaun had struggled with his mental health in the past, being treated for paranoid schizophrenia that encouraged 'impulsive behaviour', particularly when he had taken drugs or drank alcohol.
Though, in recent years, Shaun had reported to his doctors that his mental health was 'stable', that he 'didn't have suicidal ideas', and that he was 'doing well'.
Wendy said: "Nobody forced Shaun to relapse, but the influence of someone dangling drugs in front of someone who is an ex-addict was the worst thing a person could do.
"Many people spoke highly of Shaun, he helped a lot of people, and he will be sadly missed.
"I miss Shaun dearly and so does my son.
"Twenty years or so ago, I would have expected it if someone knocked on my door telling me that Shaun had passed away but now, he had turned his life around, it came as a shock."
A pathologist gave a medical cause of death of 'combined drug toxicity', while the police investigation found there had been no third party involvement or suspicious activity surrounding the Shaun's death.
Coroner Matthew Cox ruled it a 'suicide' after taking the notes into account indicating that Shaun had intended to overdose in order to take his own life.
A fundraiser was started in memory of Shaun, with friends describing him as the 'heart of the community around Chapelfield village', which brought in more than £500 to create a garden in his name.
Debbie Standring, a community development worker from Six Town Housing who works closely with the TRA, said: “Shaun dedicated so much of his time to improving the quality of life of local residents and was always there to help others.
"He was a lovely, kind man with a heart of gold and we will all miss him very much.”
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