A ‘GENUINE and gentle’ former footballer died at the age of 35 after drowning in a stream just yards away from where he was reported missing, an inquest has heard.

Ex-Warrington Town striker James Dean was reported missing by his family in May this year, three days before he was found face down in the water in a secluded woodland.

He had been struggling with his mental health for several months and would at times use cocaine to 'suppress his demons'.

Detective inspector Tracey McMurdo told the coroner's court that Mr Dean was last seen on a CCTV camera in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, just after 11pm on May 6.

The footage showed running in a car park.

His family believe that, in a paranoid state, James - of Accrington - saw a car go past and dived through small gap in a fence panel.

This led into the woodland area with the stream where he was found on the afternoon of May 9, only metres from where he had been captured on CCTV days before.

Police believe he died shortly after he entered the wooded area on the night of his disappearance and DI McMurdo said that there was no evidence to suggest he had taken his own life.

Warrington Guardian: James Dean, 35, was found dead three days after being reported missing by his family

Officers searching for James concentrated on well-known waterways, as when he had taken cocaine he would often use water to cool himself down.

The spot where James was found was unknown to the police and was not searched for a number of days.

DI McMurdo was assigned to the missing person case on May 7 and said he was classified as a ‘high risk’ due to his mental health struggles.

She said: "James was so well known in Accrington.

"As soon as people knew he was missing, there was so much help from the local community.

"People were sharing on social media and creating search parties."

In June 2020, James was referred to mental health services at Royal Blackburn Hospital after taking cocaine and saying he did 'not want to be here anymore’.

He was referred by the police a second time on in September last year after his mum Margaret Dean had reported concerns for her son.

She told the inquest: “He sometimes used cocaine to suppress the demons in his head."

The Lancashire and South Cumbria Trust mental health team attempted to contact James on his mobile and landline in October 2020 but were unsuccesful.

They then sent him a letter asking whether he wanted assistance from the service, but never received a response.

The family said that James seemed to be doing well with his mental health in the days before he went missing, laughing and joking with them and using work and the gym to control his mood.

Consultant radiologist Dr Simon Beardmore took a CT scan of James's body, which showed evidence of death by drowning.

A toxicology report showed evidence of cocaine use ‘very close to death’, which could have affected James' heart and brain functions.

Coroner Richard Taylor said he believed that James’ death was a tragic accident and returned a conclusion of accidental death.

Mr Taylor said: "He has entered the area that was unknown to him.

"Somehow, he has gone into the water.

"It’s likely he has slipped and fallen into the water while under the influence of cocaine."

The 6ft3 attacker featured for the Yellows during the 2016/17 season and also had successful spells with clubs including Chorley, Bury, Harrogate and Halifax Town.

The news of his death led to countless tributes from former teammates and managers, including ex-Blackburn Rovers stars Matt Jansen and Garry Flitcroft.

Thousands of pounds have been raised by friends at several memorial events in James' memory.

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, call the Samaritans’ free helpline on 116 123