Paul Gascoigne’s sister always feared getting a knock on the door or a phone call bringing her bad news – but she expected it to be about her talented yet wayward footballing brother.
However, when that dreaded call came, Anna-Maria Kerrigan was devastated to be told the tragedy was about her son.
To add insult to injury, Jay was branded a “druggie”, but his mum insists the claims about her “beautiful” son are lies and he was let down by the mental health system.
Anna-Maria revealed Jay had been battling mental health demons and begged to be sectioned weeks before he died.
She says: “For years I feared I’d get a knock on the door about Paul, but never, in my deepest, darkest nightmares did I think I’d get a call to tell me I’d lost my son.
“Jay, his sister Harley, his stepdad Michael and I have begged for years for Jay to get the correct help, but he was let down time and time again by the services.”
Anna-Maria told how Jay, 22, suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder – just like his famous uncle Paul, 48.
Until the age of 16, Jay was given regular, specialist help. But as soon as he was transferred to adult care, his mum says he was pushed from pillar to post – and for the past two years he slipped into decline until he was found dead on April 30.
Anna-Maria says: “He was passed around like a number and not at all treated like a young man in desperate need. He didn’t deserve to die. He needed help.”
She also hit out at “cruel and untruthful” reports Jay was a “druggie”.
She says: “I’ve been so torn, as while some people might condemn me for deciding to speak out so soon, I can’t let Jay go to his grave labelled a druggie.
“Everybody that met our Jay knew he was the most polite, well-mannered, talented, beautiful, yet tortured soul.
“I’m doing this, and I think it’s disgusting that I feel compelled to speak out when I haven’t even buried my son yet, because I have to tell all the people who never met him that my son wasn’t found in a crack house with a heroin needle in his arm.
“He wasn’t a druggie, he was suffering from mental health issues so I’m doing this for Jay and the other sons and daughters who can’t get the help they need.”
Born prematurely, Jay had a happy childhood, surrounded by the close-knit Gascoigne family ,who all live on the same estate in Gateshead, Tyneside.
“Jay’s father John walked out on us when he was six, which impacted enormously on him and his sister Harley, but my family rallied round,” Anna-Maria says.
“While his uncle Paul was loved by most, unfortunately a few were not fans and as a small 12-year-old, Jay was bullied at school beyond words. Just a week after he started senior school, one even broke his arm.
“He developed anorexia and wouldn’t eat and drink. Shortly after he developed OCD, with depression, anxiety and self-harming.”
Aged 13, Jay was taken into a residential children’s unit for mental illnesses.
Anna-Maria says: “Paul has had a well documented battle with mental health and OCD.
“A psychiatrist said it could be a hereditary thing. But with support we thought Jay would come through the worst.”
Once he reached 16, the support stopped.
“Jay got through college and he was so ambitious. They always said Paul was the talented one, but Jay had an equally amazing gift for writing poetry, lyrics and songs which he played on his guitar.
“But by the age of 17, his OCD and depression really took hold and the help just wasn’t there that he’d had as a child,” says Anna-Maria, who married Mencap support worker Michael, 42, in 2009.
Jay suffered devastating intrusive thoughts, she explains, adding: “These intrusive thoughts meant he believed he couldn’t blink, or even get a glass or water without being racked with a fear something terrible would happen.
“It was like a constant, mental torture that impacted on every part of his life.”
Over the past two years Jay’s mental health went into decline. But when he started an apprenticeship for environmental charity Groundwork in November, sitting opposite his mum, his family hoped it would be a turning point.
“We prayed he’d find a focus away from his OCD, but in November he was in hospital, then in December and January he had further hospital admissions, including when he self harmed, causing a massive infection that affected his heart and other organs.
“By then, he’d started taking prescription painkillers as they would give him some peace from his mental pain and physical pain, in addition to antidepressants for his depression.”
In March Jay was admitted to hospital for the final time after his mental health declined further and he collapsed.
“When the mental health team came down, Jay said he knew he needed help, both with his mental health issues and to also withdraw him from prescription painkillers. He begged, ‘Please section me, I’m not getting the help I need’.
“They said, ‘You are not appropriate, you need detox for prescription drugs’.
“Then we took him to drug and alcohol services. They said there’s a 10-day programme and they told him to come in on Monday. Jay felt so positive for the first time in about two years.
“But they just gave him paracetamol, something for nausea and something for stomach cramps and sent him away.
“They said he didn’t need detox because he was not an addict. This was 10 days before he died.”
Anna-Maria spent much of the day with Jay on April 29 when he had to go for a Personal Independence Payment assessment, which had continued alongside his apprenticeship wages.
She recalls: “The assessment was intense. He said to the medical assessor, ‘I’m fractured’. All she was there to do was to write a note to the DWP. But he wanted them to know how much pain he was in.
“Afterwards he told me he wanted to go and see his girlfriend Jade. So I bought them some food from Greggs and said, ‘I’ll see you later’. Then there was a split second pause where we just looked at each other, before he came over, put his arms round me, kissed me and said, ‘I love you’.
“Thank God I heard those words for the last time.
“Later, I phoned him at his girlfriend’s, saying, ‘Do you both want to come over?’ He said, ‘Jade’s at work I’ll just wait for her coming home’. I thought he was OK.
“When Jade came home she found Jay unconscious and she performed CPR until the paramedics and police arrived. There was nothing they could do to save him. He’d told her hours earlier, ‘I love you. The adventures we’ll go on when I get better’. So he didn’t want to die.”
Jade’s mum called Anna-Maria soon after midnight on Saturday, April 30, to break the terrible news. “We didn’t know he’d gone, but I jumped out of bed sobbing – somehow I just knew,” Anna-Maria says.
“Harley came downstairs, we drove to Jade’s flat. The policeman came to get me and I said, ‘Is he alive?’ When he didn’t answer he confirmed my worst fears.
“When we finally saw my son lying so still and lifeless, my legs just went and I fell to the floor. Harley threw herself on top of him saying, ‘Wake up, Jay’ and I crawled across the floor to get to him and I couldn’t let him go.”
On the day of his death, a letter arrived from mental health services at the family home, inviting him to an assessment.
“I just felt anger, that it was too little too late,” she says. “We don’t get the coroner’s report back for 10 weeks but I suspect he accidentally took too many painkillers.
“All I can think is this could have been prevented – if it’s possible to feel more pain I do – because I know he didn’t need to die.”
Anna-Maria marked her 50th birthday on Friday, by opening her cards and presents beside her son as he lay in a guitar-shaped casket, wearing his beloved grandfather’s shoes.
She wears a gold locket containing his hair next to her heart. A Mother’s Day card which says; “I love you forever”, sits untouched on the mantelpiece.
Anna-Maria says: “We were all looking forward to flying to New York to mark my birthday and his sister’s 21st birthday, but instead I went to my son’s funeral parlour to open my cards and presents so we could all be together.
“My brother Carl, his wife Jane and their children Lauren and Joe nominated a star in his name – he would have loved that. He was a diamond – and we’ve chosen the Pink Floyd song Shine On You Crazy Diamond for his service of celebration – he was special, he was all about peace and love.”
A celebration of Jay Lennon Kerrigan Gascoigne’s life will be held on Wednesday, followed by a private cremation for family and close friends.
“I can’t bring back my son, but I hope by speaking out, something can be done to help all the other young people who fall through the cracks, who fight and beg and become just a number,” says Anna-Maria.
“Like my Jay, they deserve more than that.”
- A donation to mental health charity MIND is being made on Anna-Maria’s behalf for this interview. Donate at www.mind.org.uk