Coroner rules that death of popular Queen’s Crescent resident ‘Blondie’ was accidental

Family’s tribute to ‘mascot for the community’

Published: September 1, 2011

FOR 40 years Jean Breen was a familiar face in Queen’s Crescent and Kentish Town.

A tiny woman with platinum blonde hair, a snappy dress sense and a feisty sense of humour, she was known as Blondie, Scotty or Jean McGill from Vinegar Hill. Generations of children dragged their parents to her toy stall outside Mawhoods in Queen’s Crescent.

But above all she was known as a fighter, a mother and grandmother of “remarkable endurance” who had battled bowel cancer for nearly as long as she had lived in Camden.

In March, Mrs Breen died following a fall at her home in Gaisford Street. She was 77.

Her daughter, Lorna, 44, said: “Mum had a great gift of being able to speak to anyone. She was a sort of mascot for the community. She did not suffer fools and she had a powerful moral compass. She was more ill than she ever let on, and she never let on.”

As a young girl Mrs Breen would sneak away from her home in Glasgow to get silk stockings and cigarettes from the nearby US army base. When her father caught her smoking he made her smoke cigars “until she was green” but it did not put her off.

She met her husband, Jim, a fellow Scot, when she was waitressing in the Black and White Cafe in Camden High Street, now the site of Boots.

Jim said: “She had a terrific sense of humour. People were drawn to her like a moth to a candle... and she treated everyone the same.”

She could be strong-willed too. She would remind her children that they were “never too big for a clout” and once dropped a flower pot on the head of a neighbour who was fighting with his wife.

At an inquest at St Pancras Coroner’s Court last week, her family had pressing questions about her final days in the Royal Free Hospital

Lorna Breen said: “The staff told us ‘Don’t come up because she’s coming home’. For her to be doing so well and then to deteriorate so rapidly – something obviously went wrong.”

She expressed concerns that her mother’s vital signs had not been monitored the night before her death.

Lesley Mattin, matron nurse on the hospital’s trauma ward, agreed that Mrs Breen had seemed to be improving.

She said the patient’s vital signs were “not perfect” but that the decision had been taken to let her sleep.

“It was a judgment that was made in the best interests of the patient at the time. The staff’s opinion was that she was tired and needed to rest,” said Ms Mattin.

When Mrs Breen’s vital signs were next taken early the next morning they had fallen to low levels.

Coroner Suzanne Greenaway returned a verdict of “accidental death” due to Mrs Breen’s “poor physiological reserve”.


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