Inquest hears of teenager's tragic death

Crucial time was lost in the search for a teenager who tragically drowned off the Berwick coast last year, an inquest has heard.

Thursday, 3rd November 2016, 8:05 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 2:54 pm
Flowers and tributes left for Joshua Smith in the 'Africa Garden' at Berwick Academy

Sixteen-year-old Joshua Smith died after falling from cliffs at Hud’s Head, Spittal on April 5, 2015.

A three-day inquest at Berwick town hall this week heard the heart-breaking tale of how Joshua called 999 for help but could not be located by the emergency services for nearly two hours.

Evidence was given by ambulance staff, paramedics, police, fire crew and coastguards as coroner Tony Brown tried to establish what had happened.

The inquest heard that Joshua had been at a party in Wooler on the evening of April 4. He had been picked up by his father, Keith, a retired police sergeant, at 12.30am and seemingly gone to bed shortly after getting home.

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However, Joshua called 999 around 2.15am to report that he had fallen down cliffs and hurt his ankle and neck.

He told the ambulance call handler that he had intended to take his own life but had changed his mind when he slipped and fell.

It was established that Joshua was in the Berwick area but he was ‘very frightened and emotional’ and it was difficult to get more detailed information.

As the half-hour phone call went on, it became apparent that the tide was coming in and Joshua became more scared.

The coastguard was alerted but there was confusion about where to search. They knew he was near cliffs and a caravan park so ascertained it was Berwick beach or Spittal beach.

In the meantime, BT was contacted and said the coordinates from Joshua’s mobile phone indicated he was in the Magdalene Fields area so that was where the search began.

It was only later when the phone call was played back that Joshua was heard saying he was at Spittal.

Police had earlier carried out a search along the prom but officers had returned to duties in the busy town centre.

The inquest heard it was not until 3.49am that the emergency services converged on Hud’s Head. They walked some 600 metres along the path where paramedics spotted Joshua in the water at 4.04am, clinging to rocks. He was still alive.

Firefighters made their way down the 25-metre steep cliff face and spotted Joshua about 10 metres out to sea. They were about to swim out to rescue him when a search and rescue helicopter arrived and they lost sight of him in the swell.

Joshua was located, unconscious, at 4.19am and winched on board the helicopter but he was later pronounced dead.

The inquest had not concluded by the time we went to press. More next week.