THE family of Coleraine man Gary Ferris has stressed that he had NOT been drinking when he tragically lost his life on the River Bann last year.
Father-of-one Gary (48) had turned to the bottle and got into trouble with the police before drowning on the river last July.
His devastating battle with alcoholism was laid bare in the last week’s episode of the controversial BBC NI documentary The Estate about life in Ballysally.
Speaking to The Coleraine Times this week, Gary’s brother Wesley said: “It was the said in the programme but Gary’s daughter Carol and the family want to stress that the autospy report showed that Gary had not been drinking at the time of his death.
“People watching the programme might have assumed Gary was shown in the dregs and the gutter with his drinking and then he ends up in the River Bann, but that was not the case. There was no alcohol in the system at all.”
Last week’s programme showed Gary struggling to cope with his addiction - enduring a curfew from entering bars in Coleraine, going to court and getting support visits from his alcohol liaison worker, Emma.
Welsey admitted that it made for sad and excruciating viewing.
“I was very shocked, it took the breath from me. He had put on a lot of weight, his face was all blown up and marked as if he had fallen.
“But I realise, as my mother does, that alcohol is a disease. It can hurt a lot of people - Gary and I did not get on because of his drinking.
“I spoke to mum on the Tuesday or Wednesday after the porgramme and she said it was good on one hand to see Gary again and hear him talking.
“But at the end of the programme you realise that he is not here any more - that was the bad side of it.
“Seeing him has brought it all up again and that’s not been easy.”
Several commentators on social networking sites expressed their anger that the programme makers had exploited Gary as he battled with his demons.
However Wesley said: “Gary had made the decision to go on the programme. It was something he wanted to do so there’s nothing any of us could do about it.
“As far as the programme is concerned anyone who has gone on the programme shouldn’t be foolish enough to think that it will be a bed of roses.
“The makers are going to show people talking about the issue.”
Wesley added that people were critical of government hand-outs to alcholics - as highlighted on The Estate - but added: “I know that people go on about giving money to alcoholics but at least in some way it controls things in some way.”
Gary went to Coleraine Inst and served his time as a joiner before running his own taxi firm. He is survived by a daughter and two grand-children.
He was well known in the local pool leagues and was a talented player.