Lessons to be learned from teenager's tragic death

A coroner has identified key failings in the response by emergency services to a 999 call by a Berwick teenager who tragically died.

Friday, 4th November 2016, 7:56 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 3:51 pm
Flowers and tributes left for Joshua Smith in the 'Africa Garden' at Berwick Academy

An inquest heard this week how 16-year-old Joshua Smith drowned after falling from cliffs at Hud’s Head, Spittal on April 5, 2015.

He had called 999 at 2.15am but was swept away by the sea just as emergency services arrived on the scene nearly two hours later.

At the end of the three day hearing into Joshua’s death, Tony Brown, senior coroner for north Northumberland, expressed hope that lessons could be learned from these tragic circumstances.

He also ascertained that proper procedure was not followed by the ambulance service and that there was an apparent lack of search co-ordination.

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He said: “A candid and thorough root cause analysis by North East Ambulance Service found that an existing policy for control action following a 999 call to a water based incident, was not followed.

“This stated that an officer from Resilience Department or HART Team Leader should have been advised, for information only unless required to respond. This did not happen until 75 minutes after the 999 call was answered. HART were only 1.5 miles from arriving at the scene when Joshua was lifted out of the water by helicopter.

“As to scene management, inter-operability channels were not used between agencies, there was no indication that JESIP principles (Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Program) were followed regarding briefings or coordination of resources, and the ambulance crew and fire crew felt that there was no search co-ordinator or person taking overall control.”

The inquest heard that Joshua had been at a party in Wooler, was picked up by his father and had seemingly gone to bed.

However, he called for an ambulance some 90 minutes later after falling down cliffs and hurting his ankle and neck.

The call handler was unable to pinpoint his location, other than it being near cliffs.

Co-ordinates from his mobile phone suggested he was near Berwick beach so that was where the search began.

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

He told the ambulance call handler he had intended to take his own life but had changed his mind when he slipped and fell. Earlier text and Facebook messages had shown that Joshua was speaking of taking his own life.

However, Mr Brown said he could not conclude that Joshua’s death was suicide and recorded a narrative verdict.