Heartbroken family believe man with cerebral palsy was ‘groomed’ after drug death

A heartbroken family of a man with cerebral palsy believes he was taken advantage of by ‘undesirables’ that got him into drugs. Michael Greenheld, 49, ‘still believed in Father Christmas’, his family says, arguing he could not have understood what was happening to him.

Michael, from Hull, was found dead at a friend’s home after he had taken an overdose of heroin. But his family say Michael was “groomed” and was ripped away from living a full life and having a strong network of support.

Michael was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child and suffered from learning disabilities all his life. Despite that, he embraced life and threw himself into a number of sports, winning many medals, HullLive reports.

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He was also close to his family and had help from a learning disability support team, but they could not prevent him from getting involved with the wrong people. After an inquest into his death, his family spoke about their loss and the tragic way Michael died.

They said: “Michael was such a wonderful person and loved by all his family. But he had learning difficulties and people took advantage of that.

“He was vulnerable and some unscrupulous people could see that. We tried to move him away from these people. He trusted people and showed them how kind he was. But that seemed to be his downfall. We feel he was groomed.

“We don’t even think he understood what drugs he was taking but he did know drugs were bad. He still believed in Father Christmas so how was he to understand what was going on?

“We wanted him to live his life as normal as possible and give him some independence but it was difficult for him. There were a lot of people at his funeral. They were all heartbroken and it showed how fond people were of Michael. It gave us some comfort.”

A statement was also read out by Michael’s sister which echoed similar concerns and outlined how Michael refused to let his cerebral palsy prevent him from living life to the full. She said: “Michael was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was little but he was popular, both with other children and teachers.

“We had a caravan at Flamingo Land before all the fairground rides but he love it there with the animals. He had an active life and many friends. Sport played a very big part in his life. He really loved football and was a Liverpool fan. I have also played football each week.

“He also loved rugby league and supported Hull FC. He also loved playing snooker, bowling and darts and won medals. He did not let his disability stop him which made us very proud.

“He loved his nephews and was very protective of them. He also had a very close bond with our mum who was very proud of him.”

But the family knew they had to try and let Michael live his own life as much as possible. His sister of him said: “In his late 20s, it was decided Michael should try living independently and this was a very exciting time. He was given a weekly allowance by our dad.

“But Michael is very trusting and generous and neighbors began befriending him and then taking his money. But he moved to a new place off Holderness Road and it was the happiest he had been for a while.”

Michael had support from different agencies who helped him integrate into the community and offered practical help. But despite this and the amazing support of his family, Michael fell into drugs.

His sister said: “It was around six years ago we found out he had got involved in drugs and had taken heroin. He had fallen in with a group of undesirable people.

“He got very upset when we challenged him and he was very protective of these so-called friends. But we believe they just wanted his money from him. Michael was very trusting of people and some people would gain his trust from him and then take advantage.

On October 22, Michael was staying at a friend’s house where he began to feel ill. In a statement the friend, who has since died, said: “I have known Michael for 14 years when we hung around in the city center together.

“On October 22, Michael came to stay overnight but the next day he said he was not feeling well and he looked pale. We offered him to stay another night. He stayed on the sofa in the spare room and made him a cup of tea. I checked on him later and he was asleep.

“The next day on October 24, I noticed Michael had not got up yet and it was nearly noon. I went to check on him and he was not responding. I called an ambulance.” When paramedics arrived it was clear Michael had been dead for some time and was cold to the touch.

A post-mortem was carried out which found signs of pneumonia and a pulmonary embolism but those issues would not have been enough to kill someone of Michael’s age. Toxicology samples were examined which found he had lethal levels of heroin in his system and cause of death was heroin toxicity.

Michael was looked after by an adult learning disability support team who helped provide help with his living arrangements and provided activities he could take part in. There were concerns raised about his illicit drug use of him and he sometimes went missing for days at a time.

But he did engage with services and even had a Renew (drug rehabilitation) appointment organized for the day after he died. Area coroner Sally Robinson concluded Michael’s death was ‘drug related’.

She said: “What strikes me is what a loving and supportive family Michael had and how he was at the heart of their lives too. It is obvious what a key family member he was. He loved his sport and, despite his cerebral palsy, it did not stop him doing everything he wanted to do.

“The important thing is to remember Michael for who he was to his family and his giving nature. I have lived life to the full.

“He was not afraid to ask for help but on this occasion he was too late. This is a terribly sad loss to his family from him.”


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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