By Luke Salkeld
Last updated at 10:29 AM on 25th November 2011
The cocaine-snorting boyfriend of a socialite millionairess drowned in the swimming pool of her 16th-century castle after a debauched night, an inquest heard yesterday.
Steven Penny, 43, had consumed champagne, wine and beer with a group of friends who gathered around the indoor pool in the early hours of the morning at the turreted home of 55-year-old Margarita Hamilton.
A bag of cocaine was found at the poolside and although traces were found in his body, he is not thought to have used the class A drug on the night of his death.
The hearing was told Mr Penny had consumed enough alcohol to be three-and-a-half times the drink-drive limit after celebrating the birthday of his girlfriend’s ex-husband, City financier Roy.
Mrs Hamilton once jokingly compared herself to Lady Chatterley after she began a relationship with Mr Penny, whom she met when he was working on her home in Clevedon, near Bristol, as an electrician and stonemason.
Around 15 friends had gathered at the four-storey Walton Castle to celebrate Mr Hamilton’s birthday, first at the house, and then at a Greek restaurant nearby.
Mrs Hamilton told the inquest: ‘I think Steve drank beer and red wine.
‘He was not good with alcohol.
‘The rest of the boys drink a humongous amount.
‘We took the first cab back because I had had quite enough to drink – I was quite tiddly.’
When they returned, Mr Penny and Mrs Hamilton, who had been together for 11 years, went to bed, but he was unable to sleep and went downstairs to rejoin the party.
A small group then moved to the basement swimming pool to drink champagne and swim at about 3.15am.
Among them was Zoe Innes, who said: ‘We were all on great form and in high spirits, having a lovely evening, enjoying being in the castle.’
As the group gradually depleted, Mr Penny remained with just two guests by the poolside, Patrick Sheehan and Caroline Williams. Mr Sheehan told the inquest that at around 4.40am he and Miss Williams got into the pool and began racing each other.
He said Mr Penny was in the shallow end, sitting on steps in the pool while submerging his head underwater.
Mr Sheehan added: ‘We swam to the deep end and back and then it was time to get out.
‘Then as we came to the steps of the pool we realised he [Steven] was no longer moving.
‘He was moving with the water. He was under the water and unconscious.’ Miss Williams said: ‘My recollection was that he was face up and I got the impression he was on the bottom of the pool.’
The pair hauled his body out of the water, before attempting CPR and calling for paramedics, who confirmed that Mr Penny was dead at 5.25am on March 12.
Detective Sergeant Kerry Paterson, of Avon and Somerset Police, said one clear bag containing 0.07 grams of cocaine had been found on the poolside table, although guests said Mr Penny had not taken the drug that weekend. Tests suggested he had taken it a few days before.
Mr Hamilton, who is known as Rai, said in a written statement that was read to the inquest: ‘I have seen [Steven] take cocaine, however I never saw any cocaine that weekend.’
Meg Sheehan, who was also at the party, said: ‘I am aware that at parties previously Steve has used cocaine. I was not aware of any illicit drug use that weekend.’
Pathologist Dr Hugh White concluded that cocaine did not have an effect on his death. ‘On the balance of probabilities I think dry drowning was the most likely cause of death,’ said Dr White.
‘Dry drowning is where water hits the back of the throat and there is a reflex loop which stops the heart. Death can be pretty instantaneous.
‘It is often found in people drinking heavily who have fallen into the water.’
He found Mr Penny had 281 micrograms of alcohol in his blood.
Recording a verdict of accidental death, Dr Simon Fox, assistant deputy coroner for Avon, said: ‘Steven Penny had been enjoying an evening with friends that extended into the early hours.
‘The evidence suggests he had a significant amount to drink, then, in the early hours, decided to go into the pool and was found unconscious.’
After the inquest at Flax Bourton in Somerset, former record company boss Mrs Hamilton said: ‘We are very relieved that this episode has come to an end. Steven will be sadly missed by everyone.’