An inquest has heard of how an 18-year-old fashion student killed himself months after he was reportedly groomed by an unnamed gay TV comedian.
The Daily Telegraph reports Ben Cowburn, who committed suicide of a drug overdose in December 2010, had told friends and family he was being taken advantage of by the television comedian, leaving him “belittled and humiliated” in the days before his death.
The comedian, who in the inquest was referred to only as “Mr X” to protect his identity, allegedly showered the teenager with gifts before taking him to drink and drug-fuelled parties.
The inquest also heard of how Mr Cowburn was persuaded to strip in front of a group of men and of how the comedian occasionally crept into his bed for sex.
Mr Cowburn had moved to London from his hometown of Truro, Cornwall to study at the Fashion Retail Academy when he met the comedian and they formed a relationship in September 2009.
His mother, Sharon Cowburn, told the inquest that it was around this time she became aware “that Ben had met a celebrity in a pub when he was out with friends.”
She added: “He had asked Ben to do some styling work for him. Steve and I were quite cautious about it and were warning Ben. He told me that this man already had a stylist and that he couldn’t pay Ben but that he would buy him presents.”
Mr Cowburn was due to work as the comedian’s stylist but they fell out and the teenager made several apparent suicide attempts afterwards.
He was later admitted to the Longreach hospital, sectioned under the mental health act.
David Taylor, a nurse, told the inquest that the student had felt embarrassed and ashamed and thought he had been groomed by the man, although claimed the sexual relationship had been entirely consensual.
DC David Gadsby from the Metropolitan Police said: “One evening Ben went to a party at this man’s house. There was a lot of drugs and alcohol there.
“At about 4am, Ben wanted to leave but a cab was too expensive. The man offered a room and Ben went to sleep. When he woke up this man was lying in bed next to him.”
DC Gadsby said Mr Cowburn’s sister Laura had said he had led her to believe he had been raped.
However, police decided there was no conclusive evidence that the teenager, who had sent Facebook messages to the celebrity, had been physically coerced into sex and therefore there were no grounds for questioning Mr X.
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