By Rhondor Dowlat
Caribbean News Now contributor
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- UK resident Joromie Lewis, 33, has died after reportedly drinking a pear drink manufactured in Trinidad.
UK police sources said the drink contained a lethal amount of cocaine.
Lewis, of Gosport, Hampshire, fell sick seconds after drinking the Pear D soft drink, which is manufactured by S M Jaleel, South Oropouche.
He died mere hours afterwards at the Southampton General Hospital last Thursday. Lewis was born in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
A post-mortem examination was carried out on Saturday. The results were inconclusive. Toxicology tests have been since ordered and are currently being carried out.
On Wednesday, police received laboratory test results that showed the liquid in the juice bottle contained a lethal amount of cocaine.
However, an official from S M Jaleel claimed that the Pear-D product has not been exported to the UK. The official added that the label on the product was last produced in September 2013 allegedly only for the local Caribbean market.
Another official at the company when contacted on Thursday distanced themselves from the incident, saying that it is alleged that "the act has to be the actions of individuals and or parties not affiliated with or known to them".
Despite investigations by the enforcement authorities, it has not yet been possible to obtain any distribution details for this product. Investigations are continuing by Hampshire police.
According to a UK report, the Food Standards Agency subsequently issued an alert to all local authorities in the UK to contact retailers to withdraw the Pear D drink.
S.M. Jaleel's full statement: Pear-D 20oz Voluntary Recall
We have been informed by the Hampshire Constabulary, UK, of the death of Joromie Lewis, who succumbed shortly after consuming a contaminated 20oz Pear-D on December 5, 2013 in Southampton, Hampshire, UK. The Hampshire Constabulary has confirmed during their investigations that the bottle was tampered with and contained fatal amounts of liquid cocaine.
Since we, the manufacturers of Pear D, do not export this product to the United Kingdom, we can only assume that the product entered the United Kingdom through irregular and unauthorized means and is therefore considered contraband. This was evidenced by the fact that the best before date on the bottle seems to have been compromised. Furthermore the label on the bottle of the contaminated drink was not in compliance with the UK label regulations and could not have entered or passed through customs in the UK through its ports of entry.
As a precautionary measure, we would like to take this opportunity to advise the Trinidad and Tobago public that any product still in the market, from the batch containing the code BB JAN 08 14, which included this particular bottle is currently being voluntarily recalled.
Pear D has 25 years of trust, quality and family tradition in Trinidad and Tobago and as a Company we are shocked and saddened to see our product abused and used in such a sinister manner. Our deepest condolences are extended to the family and loved ones of Joromie Lewis at this time.
SM Jaleel has been and will continue to assist the Hampshire Constabulary with their investigations regarding this tragic matter.
A Hampshire police spokesman said that one of its lines of inquiries was that the drink had been used to smuggle cocaine into the UK in a liquid form.
Lewis' widow, Jayrusha Lewis, said her husband was a “selfless and devoted family man”.
“He was a devoted family-oriented man with a selfless attitude to help others, and always knew the right words and advice to give. His exemplary conduct and actions touched the lives and hearts of many. He was a member of the Bridgemary Family Church.”
A Hampshire police spokeswoman said: “It appears from police inquiries that Lewis ingested a small amount of liquid in the belief he was drinking a genuine pear drink.”
The Food Standards Agency said: “The presence of cocaine renders the product a very serious health risk. This makes the product unsafe for consumption.”
Detective Superintendent Richard Pearson, who is leading the police investigation called Operation Crab, said: “We are working closely with partner agencies, including Southampton's Regulatory Services, Public Health England, the Food Standards Agency and other law enforcement agencies, including the National Crime Agency, to minimise any risk to the public and to investigate the circumstances leading to the tragic death of Mr Lewis.
“We are supporting his family and linking closely with public health departments.
“We have taken clear advice from partner agencies and, in light of the analysis of the contents of the bottle, a decision was made to issue the public alert by the Food Standards Agency.
“Inquiries to date have not identified any further incidents or similar bottles.
“The investigation suggests that this was likely to be a rogue bottle from a consignment of drugs stored in plastic juice bottles.”
Cocaine smuggled in liquid
Drug traffickers often try to smuggle cocaine as a liquid because the powder form is highly soluble.
Half a kilogram can be diluted into a litre of water.
It is then easily returned to its original state as 90 percent can be decanted and filtered.
Drugs authorities in different countries have found liquid cocaine smuggled in tins of pineapples, coconut milk, tequila and even soaked into clothes.
In May 2009, a 63-year-old taxi driver, Lascell Malcolm, from Haringey, North London, died after he drank from a bottle of Bounty Rum that had been used to smuggle cocaine into the country.
The father-of-two, who had been given the bottle as a present in lieu of payment from an unknowing friend, died after drinking from the bottle that had been used to smuggle 246g (8.7 oz) of pure cocaine dissolved into the alcohol.
Just a teaspoon of the liquid could be fatal.
Drug smuggler Martin Newman of Romford in Essex, aged 50 at the time of his conviction in 2010, was convicted of Malcolm's manslaughter at Croydon Crown Court and sentenced to 20 years to run concurrently with 15 years for the importation of cocaine.
Later in 2010, scientists from the Universities of Bradford and Leeds developed a portable laser light, called a Raman, which can detect the presence of cocaine through glass and was hoped could help prevent the drug being smuggled into the country in this manner.
Customs officials otherwise have to open bottles to test for cocaine.