“Are you Mr Andrew Cowan?”
“Father of Daniel Cowan, known as Dougie?”
“Yes, what is it?”
“I’m so sorry to tell you your son has been found dead”
I was at work in Mayfair, London in July 2016. My Personal Assistant, who is based in Bracknell in Berkshire, had called me to say that Livingston CID in Scotland were trying to contact me and could I call them. She gave me the number of an officer at Livingston police and I called her. The hours following are a blur of shock and devastation.
My wife, Margaret, and I met as kids and have been married for nearly 40 years. Daniel, who was 29, was the middle of our three sons. He had been celebrating a new job and a new apartment after an upsetting few months in which his marriage had broken down. But as always with Daniel, he was getting back on his feet and resetting his compass for a new life. If I try to find the most fitting words to describe him, they surely include; fun-loving, mischievous, warm, tactile, talented, loving, sociable, life-and-soul-of-the-party, practical joker, wonderful son and brother. So many people looked to him, his joie de vivre, his enthusiasm, his positivity, for encouragement and solace, and he was generous with his time and company. I think by now you start to get him.
We had been aware that, from his teenage years, Daniel had probably been a very occasional user of recreational drugs. Just the occasional substitute or enhancement for alcohol I suppose. He liked to try new things but was a responsible guy with a good job, a good career in financial services ahead of him, and always clear thinking. He loved movies, could talk about them for hours, he loved his friends and he loved spending time with his family.
One of his friends in Linlithgow was a lad who had followed a darker path. He was a known drug user, and reputed distributor. But he had been Daniel’s friend since school days and Daniel wasn’t the type to dump his friends. It is with this friend that Daniel chose to celebrate on Sunday 24th July 2016. The witness testimony tells us that Daniel’s friend acquired drugs from the Dark Web at some point that day and they formed part of the fatal cocktail Daniel took. By all accounts, he went to bed at around midnight, no doubt feeling relaxed and happy, looking forward to the next phase of his life.
The next morning, his friend got up at around 1pm and found Daniel unresponsive on the couch. A member of the Fire Department close by tried to resuscitate him but to no avail. He had taken a mix of heroin and MDMA (“ecstasy”) and it had killed him. Although at that time autopsies were rarely testing for fentanyl, the police say there is a possibility that this is the synthetic heroin he took. Although there was an investigation, no one was prosecuted for supplying drugs to my son.
In my last conversation with Daniel that very Sunday, in the afternoon, he seemed happy and excited about his new apartment in Edinburgh. We talked about the new job which he was starting in only a week’s time. As he often did, he told me how proud he was of what I had achieved and hoped to emulate my success.
It’s hard to imagine a world where Daniel could have simply popped into town and bought drugs for his celebration evening from, perhaps, a local chemist, knowing that he would be safe and the drugs would be fit for consumption. No sleazy dark web, no ruthless criminals, no danger that the drugs were created and distributed with only profit in mind, rather than consumer safety. But to get to this point, there will have to be a massive cultural change where those who choose to ease life’s traumas and hardships in this way will no longer face approbation and harsh judgement.
The majority of drug takers do not deserve to be criminalised or subject to abandonment by authorities. Manufacture and supply need to be controlled by responsible agents and governed by proper, caring regulation within the context of a tolerant and pragmatic society.
I am convinced that, had this been the case, our son would still be with us. And our lives would not have been torn apart.
Daniel, second from the right, at his wedding in 2013
At his funeral, I read a poem which I wrote about that phone call:
I talked to you the other day
Before you left
Now I won’t talk to you again
I am bereft
You told me you were doing well
Your future bright
But hours from then you disappeared
Into the night
I love you son more than the world
Now it’s not clear
How I can live my life again
When you’re not here
Life goes on, but we will never be the same. Daniel was such a bright, shining light in our lives. The unimaginable disappearance of that star will leave a gaping void of darkness for as long as we live. But we are lucky that we have our two remaining boys, handsome and strong, of whom we are so proud. We live for them, and for each other. And if we can, we would like to try to ensure this tragedy stops happening to others.