A news agency reporter who challenged a coroner when an inquest into the hanging of a young child was completed in less than four minutes was shocked when he was told the death “was not in the public interest”.
James Llewelyn (pictured) was the only journalist present when Milton Keynes coroner Tom Osborne refused to give any details of the circumstances leading to the tragic accidental death of a 12-year-old boy who was found hanged at home.
The hearing was attended only by Llewelyn, the coroner and coroner’s officer. No family of the boy turned up for the hearing.
Osborne spent just four minutes conducting the “public” inquest into the death of Chase Angus and refused Llewelyn’s media application to reveal the contents of a police investigation into the schoolboy’s death.
The same coroner had just a week earlier refused to hear inquests via remote links as a precaution against coronavirus, telling journalists that if they wanted to hear “the details” of an inquest they had to be present.
This is despite guidance from the Chief Coroner stating it is “permissible” for press to be given access to audio-only remote links during the pandemic.
Challenged over his decision to keep secret the details of Chase’s hanging at his home in Milton Keynes, last November, Osborne declined to give more information, adding that the reporter should “get himself a lawyer”.
He said that it was his “prerogative” under Rule 23 of the Coroner’s Rules to decide how much detail to give at an inquest.
None of Chase’s family was present at the inquest but the coroner said they had been given the opportunity to attend via a video link if they wished – despite journalists being refused that same option.
In his brief summary, the coroner confirmed that the family was not attending. He stated that Chase’s death had been reported to him and he had requested a post-mortem examination. He added the child was confirmed dead by a Dr Tahir on 30 November last year. No other details were given.
Reporter Llewelyn, who works for Neil Hyde‘s news agency Hyde News & Pictures, protested strongly over the brevity of the inquest and the “complete lack of facts”, stating that the inquest was supposed to be a public examination of the facts surrounding the boy’s death and that he was there representing the public.
Llewelyn said: “I was taken aback when the inquest was opened and closed in such a short time. I remember from my NCTJ course at PA Training that it was my job to challenge rulings which I feel are wrong. In this case, the coroner hid behind his rule book which appears to give him powers to hush-up deaths I am sure most people would think were of public interest.
“We will never know whether there were any lessons to be learned from this poor child’s accidental death – because the coroner refused to disclose anything from the police investigation.
“As I was one of just three people in that room, I think he could at least have offered some explanation for his decision – telling me to consult a lawyer was not helpful.”
The coroner had earlier stated that Chase was found at about 7.50 on November 30 in his bedroom, unresponsive. No other details were given.
On 4 December a post mortem examination was carried out by Dr Angus Molyneux. The stated cause of death was “a ligature around the neck”. No other details were given.
A GP report which the coroner reviewed showed that Chase had “suffered from all the usual childhood maladies but nothing of any importance”. No further details were given.
The coroner said he had “received a note from Angus’ parents describing him as a lovely, very sociable young man”. He stated that Chase was aged 12 years and was born on 5 December 2007. His place of death was Milton Keynes University Hospital.
He continued within four minutes of starting the hearing: “The conclusion that I have reached on the basis of the evidence is he died as a result of an accident.”
Following the closure of the hearing, the HNP News reporter placed a request with the coroner’s officer for more background and more detailed summaries of the documents involved in the case.
He said: “The Coroner agreed to allow me to make an application to him. I requested more thorough summaries be given of the police report into the death of Chase and the circumstances that led up to it.
“The Coroner reminded me of his prerogative under Rule 23 and stated he felt an adequate summary of the document was given in the hearing.
“I requested that the Coroner consider that this was supposed to be an open and public hearing and that the inquest was a public examination of the facts of a death. I also reminded him of the public interest in this case as a young boy had lost his life and it was important to examine whether any opportunities to save his life were missed by the authorities.
“The Coroner said he felt there was no public interest in this case and he would not be releasing any more details or documents regarding the case.”