November 13, 1995: Leah Betts, left in a coma after taking ecstasy, becomes a tragic symbol of the dangers of drugs

Leah Betts’ 18th birthday party should have been a time for celebration. Instead it ended in tragedy and led to her parents becoming tireless anti-drugs campaigners.

On this day in 1995, the face of a young girl in a hospital bed was splashed unforgettably across newspapers and TV screens.

Two days after Leah Betts had collapsed at her own 18th birthday party, her parents made the difficult decision to allow a photo of Leah, comatose and intubated in a hospital bed, to be made public. Their goal - to make sure no one else ended up like their daughter.

On November 11, Leah had invited several of her friends to enjoy a celebration at her family home in Essex.

At some point during the party, Leah took an ecstasy tablet. Four short hours later she was plunged into the coma from which she would never wake up.

This image of Leah Betts in a coma was made public to warn of the dangers of taking ecstasy.

While Leah didn’t die of an overdose, her cause of death was directly linked to the ecstasy she had taken. Leah’s official cause of death – and the cause of the coma which preceded it – was water intoxication and hyponatremia. She had consumed a large quantity of water – as much as seven litres by some reports – in a short space of time. This led her brain to swell and this, in turn, damaged it beyond repair.

Two days later, at Great Burstead hospital in Essex, knowing there was no hope left for their own daughter, Leah’s parents decided to try to save the lives of other people’s children.

Leah’s father and stepmother had stayed at home during the party precisely to avoid any drug use. Leah’s father was a policeman and her stepmother a nurse whose job was to warn children about the dangers of drugs.

Leah's parents, Jan and Paul Betts, in Chelmsford for the inquest into their daughter's death in January 1996.

By allowing the photo of Leah in her hospital bed to be released, her parents hoped that it would show people the true face of the dangers of drugs, and deter others from taking ecstasy.

Leah Betts died on November 16, 1995. After a police investigation, several of her friends were arrested on minor drug charges, although the main dealer was never found.

Leah’s parents became tireless anti-drugs campaigners in the years following her death before feeling ultimately thwarted by England’s drug policies.

Also on this day: November 13, 1969 - Anti-Vietnam 'March Against Death' held in Washington DC

More from BT