Paramedic stepfather suspected drug use
Gemma Thoms' parents Paul and Peta Davies. Picture: Lee Griffith / The West Australian

Gemma Thoms' stepfather said yesterday he was haunted by the missed opportunities lost at the 2009 Big Day Out to possibly save the teenager's life before she died from an ecstasy overdose.

Paul Davies, a qualified paramedic of 18 years who works for St John Ambulance, yesterday told the inquest investigating the overdose that he and his wife, Gemma's mother Peta, had suspicions of drug use, but his stepdaughter always denied it.

He said the family was in "total shock" at claims in court about the extent of the 17-year-old's drug use.

Mr Davies said Gemma, who died after swallowing three ecstasy pills ahead of her first big music festival, was a "beautiful, vibrant and independent" girl who wanted to grow up too fast. "She was a typical teenager, she just wanted to hurry up and be 18," he said.

He often thought about Gemma's initial visit to a first-aid post at the Claremont Showground - about an hour before she collapsed - when a volunteer first-aid officer recorded abnormal vital signs for someone of her age, but did not realise she was in danger and let her go. "That's the time she should have been caught and it was missed," he said.

He said the volunteers did their best, but his family would never know if having better-qualified people on hand would have made a difference.

Mr Davies said he was stunned that organisers had made no changes to the festival, to be held in Perth on Monday, as a result of Gemma's death. He said every event should have a system of regular review and improvement. Mr Davies said major events such as the Big Day Out, which attracts up to 40,000 people, needed a qualified paramedic at every first-aid post because first-aid volunteers did not have the experience, the equipment or the ability to administer as many drugs as paramedics could.

A St John Ambulance spokeswoman told The West Australian yesterday that three of its paramedics would be working at Monday's festival. Last year's downsized event was the first year SJA provided a paramedic to the Big Day Out.

Jonathan Davies, lawyer for event promoters Altered State Events, argued the Big Day Out system was professional, but not perfect, and told the inquest that a dual wristband scheme would be used this year to better identify underage people.

The inquest has been told Gemma managed to enter the festival as an adult with a fake ID. Det-Supt Jim Migro, chief of the licensing enforcement division, said he would prefer the Big Day Out to be an adults-only event.

The West Australian

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