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Inquest Law Reports

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1 Inquest LR

Parkin v HM Coroner for North Lincolnshire and Grimsby District

Issue : Whether under s. 13(1)(b) of the Coroners Act 1988 it was necessary or desirable in the interests of justice that another inquest should be held where evidence that was possibly relevant to the deceased’s state of mind and to a verdict of suicide had not been heard.

Court and Reference : Administrative Court; CO/5487/2004

Neutral Citation : [2005] EWHC 660 (Admin)

Judge : Maurice Kay LJ, Holland J

Date : 15 June 2001

Facts : The claimant’s 17 year old son was found dead at school hanging by a piece of rope. The cause of death found by the inquest was death by hanging. The coroner reached an open verdict.

The limited evidence at the inquest had focused on the deceased’s relationship with his mother and relevant evidence about his difficulties with relationships at the school was not heard. A request was made for a new inquest pursuant to s. 13(1) of the Coroners Act 1988.

Decision : The test to be applied in considering whether to quash an inquest and order a fresh one on the basis of new evidence was whether it was possible that there would be a different verdict (In re Rapier [1988] 1 QB 26).

At the original inquest evidence of unhappiness or desperation on the part of the deceased was somewhat limited and related to incidents at the time which would not have been expected to result in a young man taking his own life. Evidence which had not been heard at the inquest, if accepted, would undermine the school’s account and show difficulties in relationships between the deceased and school staff such that a new coroner might be more persuaded of suicide than was the original coroner.

Therefore under s. 13(1)(b) of the Coroners Act 1988 it could properly be said that it was necessary or desirable in the interests of justice that another

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inquest should be held because of the insufficiency of inquiry and the discovery of new facts or evidence.

Appearances : R Clayton QC (instructed by Messrs Price Richard & Co) for the claimant; the coroner did not appear and was not represented


Maurice Kay LJ

1. There is before the court an appeal by Mrs Shanie Janice Parkin under s. 13 of the Coroners Act 1988. The appeal relates to an inquest which took place following the tragic death of Mrs Parkin’s son Bradley on 22 February 2000. At that time Bradley was 17 years of age. He was a student at Lindsey School in Cleethorpes. On that day he was found dead in the school, in the props room near the stage area, hanging by a piece of rope. The cause of death found by the inquest was death by hanging. The coroner reached an open verdict.

2. The inquest heard evidence from Mrs Parkin. It also heard evidence from a friend and a fellow student of Bradley’s, namely Daniel Bradshaw, and it heard evidence from members of the school staff. In addition there was police evidence. In a nutshell, the reason for the open verdict was that the coroner came to the conclusion that, having regard to the evidence about the sort of person Bradley was, it was not established that he had in fact committed suicide. There was considered a range of alternative possibilities, perhaps the more likely of which was misadventure as a result of a voluntary act which was not intended to result in death but might have had some ulterior intention, possibly that of a cry for help. Be that as it may, as I have indicated, the coroner returned an open verdict because he thought that one scenario rather than another had not been established on the evidence.

3. It is important to summarise that evidence. Mrs Parkin described Bradley’s involvement with drama productions at the school and the way in which he had assisted the staff at the school when he was not involved in lessons of his own. It seems that he had very strong motivation in the area of drama and he had recently had a part in the school’s production of Grease, which had taken place a week or so before his death.

4. Mrs Parkin described some domestic friction with Bradley. There had been an incident in November 1999 when he had spent some money on alcohol, and had driven Mrs Parkin’s partner’s car without his permission. There had also been something of a row on 21 February 2000, when she had found Bradley smoking in his room. It resulted with her telling him that he needed to sort himself out and concentrate on his school work. She told the coroner of her anger with him and how she had spoken to him about it later as well. Finally, she gave evidence that Bradley had in fact been offered a full time job at the school as a managing technician for performing arts commencing in September 2000, on the basis that he would also have day release to study at Lincolnshire University. She said that on 21 February he had been told that that job had been taken away from him following an argument with some members of staff, as a result of which he had been barred from the lower school and from the drama club to which he was deeply attached.

5. Bradley’s friend Daniel Bradshaw described Bradley and his disposition earlier on the day of his death. He described him as “a bit moody and quiet during media studies”, but at about 2pm Bradley had said to him “see you at six o’clock”. Daniel was asked about his knowledge of the drama technician’s job. He said that everyone was saying that Bradley was going to get the job but that it was being left as a surprise for after his A-levels. He said that the head of sixth form, Mrs Tibbett, was his source of that information. He was asked about the argument in school on 21 February. He said it was not an argument as such. One of the teachers had spoken to Bradley about the lunchtime drama club and the fact that she could not get her children back into lessons after it. She was going to speak to one of the other teachers about having the club take place after school rather than in the middle of the day. Daniel thought that the school did not know anything about alcohol having been brought into the school on 18 February. Moreover, Bradley had not told him on 21 or 22 February that he had had an argument with his mother.

6. The picture that emerges from those two witnesses, then, was one of a modicum of friction at home, but not out of the ordinary, and the evidence as a whole was that Bradley was a teenager with normal attitudes and attributes.

7. The teachers who gave evidence ranged over a number of subjects. It is not necessary for me to summarise all that they said. A number of them described seeing Bradley at various times on 22 February, but being unconcerned by any manifestation of desperation on his part. They simply did not describe any at all. Caroline Harley, the head of drama, did say that he looked pale and miserable and worried at one stage on the morning of 22 February, and he told her that something had happened at home which was on his mind and that he had had an argument about the “car business again”. That must be a reference to the original argument in November 1999. She had, in fact, given him a lift from the lower school to the upper school at about 2.15pm. He had left his bike at the lower school. She described him as having been very quiet and having said at one stage “anything but to go home”.

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8. Another member of staff, Wendy Pankhurst, said that on 21 February Bradley told her that he had had a fall-out with his mother and that he was not allowed to go to the lower school any more. The headteacher, Mr Walsh, was called to give evidence. He said that he had no knowledge of any arguments between Bradley and any members of staff on 21 February. He was not aware of any discussions at the school regarding Bradley reducing his work. When the coroner asked Mr Walsh whether Bradley had been offered the post of performing arts technician, or whether it was being presented as a surprise after A-levels, Mr Walsh replied that no offer was made to Bradley and no offer had been retracted. The post was advertised in June and it was for a professional arts technician. It would not have been suitable for Bradley because he did not have the experience. Apparently Mrs Parkin accused Mr Walsh of covering up evidence about the offer and its subsequent withdrawal, but he did not accept that.

9. That, then, was the general tenor of the evidence. The coroner said:

“Whatever one wants to believe or thinks may have happened, one cannot avoid the proposition that he appears to have stood on that chest of drawers with a rope around his neck, and an obvious inference is that he intended to take his own life. But the other factors that I have mentioned all appear to point in an opposite direction. But the fact of the rope is very compelling.

But I am obliged to exclude the possibility that there was some unexplained accident, or was it a cry for help, an ‘I can’t cope’ action to create sympathy in others because he was in conflict? Or was he in conflict with others, his mother and the school, and he wanted them to see that he could not cope, and he was trying to influence them?”

10. Having expressed those views, he returned an open verdict because he was not satisfied that it had been properly established that Bradley had intended to end his own life. He was not able to exclude every possibility of accident, or an incident which was deliberate but not intended to end in death.

11. There matters stood until this appeal. It is brought pursuant to s. 13 of the Coroners Act 1988, subs(1) of which provides:

“(1) This section applies where, on an application by or under the authority of the Attorney-General, the High Court is satisfied as respects a coroner … either –
(a) …
(b) where an inquest has been held by him, that (whether by reason of fraud, rejection of evidence, irregularity of proceedings, insufficiency of inquiry, the discovery of new facts or evidence or otherwise) it is necessary or desirable in the interests of justice that another inquest should be held.”

12. The crucial question at the inquest was that posed in s. 11 of the Coroners Act and again in r36 of the Coroners Rules 1984, namely:

“How … the deceased came by his death.”

13. On behalf of Mrs Parkin, Mr Clayton QC accepts that, this being a death prior to the coming into force of the Human Rights Act 1998 , even though the inquest occurred after the coming into force of that Act, the “how” question falls to be determined in accordance with the principles expanded in R v HM Coroner for North Humberside ex p Jamieson [1995] QB 1, rather than by reference to the more demanding Art 2 compliance test referred to recently in the case of R (Middleton) v West Somerset Coroner [2004] Inquest Law Reports 17, [2004] 2 AC 182. In Middleton, and indeed in the case of Sacker ([2004] Inquest Law Reports 28) which was decided on the same day, the House of Lords left open the question of the application of Art 2 to pre-Human Rights Act deaths, but it seems to me that the acceptance and concession made by Mr Clayton is entirely appropriate. Certainly the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland has recently come to a conclusion to that effect.

14. What lies behind the appeal is a concern about the ambit of the evidence at the inquest. That concern is now furthered by the obtaining of statements from a number of witnesses, most of whom were not called at the inquest. As I have said, the only pupil called at the inquest was Bradley’s friend Daniel.

15. The test to be applied by this court in considering whether to quash an inquest and order a fresh one on the basis of new evidence is that set out in the case of In re Rapier [1988] 1 QB 26. It had been suggested in that case that an inquest should not be quashed unless it could be shown that a fresh inquest would probably reach a different verdict. However, that suggestion was rejected by the court. Woolf LJ held that it was sufficient that it was possible that there would be a different verdict. He said at p34B-F:

“This appears to be a much more satisfactory approach because, in many cases, and I would include this case as an example, it will be quite impossible to say what will be the effect of the new evidence. The effect which it will have will only be known after the witnesses have given their evidence and have been questioned. They may then be believed or they may not be believed. However, whatever the outcome, it still may be in the interests of justice that their evidence should be explored in public before a jury.”

16. In the present case, the Attorney General granted his consent to the appeal on 7 September 2004. When he did so, the material placed before him related entirely to evidence of people who had either not

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been called at the inquest or felt able to say more than they had felt able to say at the inquest.

17. Without going through all the statements in detail, it is sufficient to identify a theme to this effect: that if the new evidence were heard and accepted, then it would undermine what Mr Walsh, the headteacher, had said about the technician’s job. According to Bradley’s sister, Rachel Jordan, Mr Walsh told her on 24 February 2000, in answer to a question of whether Bradley did have that job, that it was “in the bag”. Bradley had told a family friend, Peter Chappel, that he had been guaranteed the job. One of Bradley’s friends, Danielle Emmitt, said that Bradley had told his whole drama group that he had been offered the job after finishing his A-levels. She also said that a member of staff, Mrs Shawhulme, had approached Bradley and congratulated him on obtaining the job.

18. As to an incident on 18 February 2000 at a school disco, following the production of Grease, there was evidence that, whilst none of the staff who gave evidence at the inquest described any incident, Bradley had in fact been found drinking alcohol at school on that occasion. That inevitably got him into trouble, and had resulted in a decision that he should no longer be permitted to run the drama club. A number of witnesses have now made statements describing his annoyance about that. Some also described an announcement over the school tannoy to the effect that he would no longer be involved with the drama club as a result of the incident. All in all, quite a number of pupils have made statements along those lines. There is also evidence of possible difficulties in relationships between Bradley and the staff, including Mr Walsh and Mrs Tibbett.

19. All this led to the launching of this appeal on the basis that the evidence received at the original inquest, coming from the limited sources that it had, tended to focus on possible difficulties between Bradley and Mrs Parkin, whereas this evidence shifts that focus on to difficult relationships in the school involving the offer and withdrawal of a job, and a form of punishment in being no longer permitted involvement with the drama club following the incident at the disco on 18 February. It is said that all this would have caused the coroner, if he had had the evidence, to see the matter in a rather different light. That was the evidence which led to the approach to the Attorney General.

20. Since then, a further category of evidence has been proffered, although it is in a somewhat incomplete state at the moment. James Clery, a forensic scientist, has reported on the basis of an assumed, or hypothetical, reconstruction of the scene and has expressed opinions based on the length of the rope by which Bradley was found hanging. Suffice it to say that he is questioning whether that length of rope was sufficient to enable Bradley to commit suicide. He expresses no concluded view on the subject. He suggests a proper reconstruction in situ, using the items of furniture that are assumed to have been in use at the time.

21. I say at once that if the present appeal had been brought before the court simply on the basis of Mr Clery’s report as it now is, it would not have provided a basis for allowing this appeal. Indeed, I infer that Mrs Parkin would have been well advised to wait for further developments in that regard. They may produce something, on the other hand they may not.

22. But what about all the evidence to which I have referred, coming from family and pupils and tending to contradict the evidence of Mr Walsh and put events in a rather different light from that suggested by the more limited evidence at the inquest? It was this evidence which disposed the Attorney General to grant his consent to this appeal. It is relied upon by Mrs Parkin, appreciating as she no doubt does that it may prove to be two-edged. At one stage it was her view that she wished to establish that her son had not committed suicide. If the new evidence is to have value and be accepted so as to inform the decision of another coroner, then it is possible – I see no need to put it higher than that – that the new coroner might be more persuaded of suicide than was the original coroner. The reason is obvious: originally, evidence of any form of unhappiness or desperation on the part of Bradley was somewhat limited and related to incidents at the time which would not have been expected to result in a young man like him taking his own life. If this new evidence were to be accepted, it might suggest a greater degree of desperation on his part. I know not, and it is not for me to contemplate or decide.

23. However, having accepted that analysis, as Mr Clayton indicates Mrs Parkin has done, it does seem to me that, looking at the matter in the round, it can properly be said that it is necessary or desirable in the interests of justice that another inquest should be held. If one refers to the words in parentheses in s. 13(1)(b) of the Coroners Act, it is because of:

“… insufficiency of inquiry, the discovery of new facts or evidence or otherwise.”

24. Accordingly, I take the view that this appeal ought to be allowed and that a new inquest ought to be directed. As the coroner himself has observed in a witness statement, it would be appropriate, if that were the outcome, if the new inquest was heard before a different coroner. For my part, I would order accordingly.

Holland J

25. I agree. There is nothing useful that I can add.

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