Teenage boy tragically found dead in forest ‘didn’t mean to end his life’

Posted: 21st November 2022

There is no clear evidence that a ‘loving’ 15 year old boy who was tragically found dead by his mum intended to end his own life, a coroner has ruled. Harley Whittle was found dead in a woodland area close to his home in Bury after failing to return from seeing friends who lived nearby earlier in the day.

An inquest into his death heard that on July 8 2022, the 15-year-old met up with his pals, who described him as being his normal self, before he left at 9pm. It was just hours later that evening that his mother found his body in the woods, Manchester Evening News reports.

Neighbours rushed to perform CPR on him but the youngster was pronounced dead at midnight after he was taken to Fairfield General Hospital. Coroner Catherine McKenna stated that there was ‘no compelling evidence’ that proved Harley intended to end his own life following an inquest into his death at Rochdale Coroners Court.

The court also heard that the young boy had been popular among friends and teachers at St Gabriel’s High school as well as having a very close bond with his mother and sister after losing his dad to cancer. The inquest heard that Harley had been in the process of being assessed for ADHD as he complained of being unable to concentrate in school but that in the weeks before his death he had ‘turned a corner’.

In January this year, his teachers and his mother, Pippa, discovered some scars on his forearm which he claimed had been caused by the dog’s lead cutting into him while they were out for a walk. Pippa had rang Harley’s GP, Dr Ahmed Ali, in March to enquire about the process of having her son being checked for ADHD which she was informed would have to be done in conjunction with his school.

Pippa also raised her concerns about the potential self-harm in January, which was referred to Bury CAHMS (child and adolescent mental health services) but at no point did she ever imagine her son would end his own life, the inquest was told. Paris Thompson, who was the team leader at Bury CAHMS at the time of Harley’s referral, shared that she screened his initial appointment but decided to not take the case any further at the time. It was believed that his self harm was ‘historic’ and that the bigger issue at hand was testing him for ADHD.

When questioned by the coroner as to why she didn’t immediately take the mental health referral further she said that in hindsight, she “would have dealt with it differently”. Mr Daniel Stewart, who is St Gabriel’s deputy head and lead for safeguarding, said that Harley was a “very caring, active, fun, and loving human”.

The teacher, who also taught the 15-year-old in PE classes, said that he caused little ‘disruption’ at school and enjoyed being on report in the weeks leading up to his death as he could take something positive home to his mother. Mr Stewart also told the court that children were urged to come to staff to talk about any personal issues they had, but that Harley did not do this.

He said that his school friends had come forward about conversations they previously had with him where he revealed he may have tried to take his own life before. They added they did not believe he would do anything further that may harm himself.

Vanessa Woodall, the designated nurse for child protection in NHS Bury, said looking back there were “no safeguarding concerns” but there were lessons here to be learned for the agencies involved. This includes pathways to making mental health referrals clearer and more clarity around making these referrals.

In the days following the young boy’s tragic death, his friends confessed to school staff that he had previously told them he had attempted to take his own life before in similar circumstances to how he was found on the night of his death. Some of his friends read out statements in court in which they described Harley the evening they had been together as appearing “normal” and “energetic and happy”.

One of his friends revealed that they had a problem at school that day and Harley had been trying to make them feel better. Another one of his friends told the court that they had asked Harley about the injuries on his arm in the months before his death and the 15-year-old told them he had tried to take his life.

Coroner Catherine McKenna gave a conclusion of ‘misadventure’ as she told the court: “His mum was satisfied that the marks on his arms were caused by the dog lead. There was nothing of concern regarding that mark on his arm (from school).

“Two of Harley’s friends spoke about conversations from around the May holidays that… he said he wanted to ‘end it’. Neither told the school about this until after his death as they genuinely had not believed he would end his life.

“I am unable to make the finding that he had previously tried to end his life. Both the school and his mum had taken action over the self harm and satisfied themselves there was nothing of concern.”

She added that any visible marks that would have shown from a previous attempt on his life would have been noticed and raised by parents or the school. “He was not experiencing thoughts about ending his life,” Ms McKenna added.

“He was in good spirits when he left his friends on July 8, he had a strong friendship group and showed huge concern for friends, his mum, and sister, and I don’t think he would have intended to end his life. He had plans for his mum’s birthday the next week and to see his friends days later.


“He may have had the intention… but with unintended consequences. He misjudged the time it would take to become unconscious.”

She added: “There is no evidence to suggest that he intended the consequences of his actions.”

Source: Daily Record

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