Published: 05/11/2009 00:00 - Updated: 09/12/2009 11:18

Parents reveal 17-month ordeal following Caroline's death

Written byBy Sinead Holland

THE parents of tragic Bishop's Stortford schoolgirl Caroline Johnstone told this week of their long ordeal trying to solve the mystery of how and why the bright and bubbly 17-year-old died.

On Monday, coroner Caroline Beasley Murray recorded a verdict of death by natural causes on the girl affectionately known as 'Fairy Caz', who died last summer after collapsing in a Harlow nightclub.

Although the hearing took just minutes, the ruling represented the end of a 17-month struggle for the teenager's mum and dad, Lesley and Johnny, from Little Hadham.

An inquest in Chelmsford was told that a post-mortem had revealed that Caroline suffered irreversible brain damage due to a sustained atrial arrhythmia, but that her fatal heart problem was not caused by the failure of the pacemaker the youngster had fitted when she was just a baby.

Clutching a file of international correspondence, written over more than a year as the pair painstakingly pieced together their daughter's final moments and expert medical evidence, Mrs Johnstone said: "We're both so tired.

"It's almost 17 months since she died and her case was made more complicated by the fact she had a pacemaker, but it's taken an awful long time to eliminate that as a cause of death - it's been horrendous and enormously frustrating."

More than 2,000 people attended the inaugural Cazfest music festival at Jobbers Wood near Bishop's Stortford this summer in memory of the hugely popular sixth-former at the Bishop's Stortford High School, raising £25,000 for Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY).

Caroline was born with a hole in the heart and had major surgery when she was just five months old, but a check two months before her collapse while out dancing on June 6 last year, plus subsequent tests, ruled out any fault.

Although she did not call any witnesses, Mrs Beasley Murray said that she had reviewed all the evidence - including the findings of specialist Dr Mary Sheppard, of the Royal Brompton Hospital in London - and was satisfied the pretty teen died of "purely natural causes - there's nothing to add".

She made it clear Caroline had drunk just one glass of wine while partying with friends before she became ill at Liquid nightclub in Harlow.

Although she was revived by staff at Princess Alexandra Hospital, her catastrophic injuries meant her anguished parents decided to switch off her life support on June 12.

Outside the court, Mr Johnstone said that his daughter had been engulfed by a "perfect storm" of factors which accumulated and claimed her life. He said: "Everything just came together."

Lesley said that her daughter had a flu-like virus in the weeks before her death, she was studying hard and stressed before the start of her A-level exams, she had drunk a small amount of alcohol and was in a hot nightclub. She may also have been dehydrated.

Lesley said that she and her husband had found strength in each other and their son Ross, now 16.

The Johnstones said that although their daughter was a "social butterfly" with plenty of pals, they never realised quite how popular she was until they were overwhelmed by the response of Caz's friends from her own school, Hockerill-Anglo European College and St Andrew's CofE Primary in Much Hadham.

Her impact on the lives of those around her remains a source of great pride and comfort and they have pledged to continue their fund-raising crusade with the support of the Observer.

A second Cazfest music festival, which they said their daughter would have "adored", is already in the pipeline
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