Archie Battersbee died as a result of an accident during a “prank or experiment that went wrong”, a coroner has ruled.
The 12-year-old’s life support was withdrawn last August, months after he was found unconscious with a ligature around his neck at home in Southend, Essex, on 7 April. His family believe he had been taking part in a dangerous online challenge.
His parents Hollie Dance and Paul Battersbee failed in their bids to overturn a High Court ruling that doctors could lawfully withdraw his medical care.
At an inquest into his death in Chelmsford, Essex, senior coroner Lincoln Brookes described the schoolboy as a “complex” child.
Recording a conclusion of accidental death, he said that Archie “hadn’t intended to harm himself but had done so inadvertently during a prank or experiment that went wrong”.
Mr Brookes said he was satisfied that Archie “put his head in a noose or put a cord round his neck”.
“I think he did so without necessarily a good reason: 12-year-old boys don’t always have reasons,” Mr Brookes said.
“I think it may just be a case of curiosity – what does it feel like?”
He said that “something very similar happened the night before”, when Archie’s sister saw him putting a cord around his head to try to pull a door closed.
“This was an accident that went wrong, either a prank to shock his mum as she came out of the bedroom to find him doing something shocking or reckless, or just experimenting to see what it was like to do this,” Mr Brookes said.
“It probably went wrong very quickly and very badly.”
He said it was “possible” that Archie had been taking part in an online challenge but he had not seen evidence of this.
He said he had considered a conclusion of suicide but ruled this out, adding: “It seems to me that while there were periods of low mood and very low mood during the previous 12 months, in the days preceding his death I haven’t received any evidence of that.”
“He was full of energy, he was very physical, he was at times very bored,” said Mr Brookes.
“He liked to shock those around him, perhaps even more so those he cared about. He liked to trick, he liked sometimes to carry out acts, or some might describe them as stunts, that would alarm people.”
He said that Archie had shared with peers in Whatsapp groups “and did a couple of times express to his mother, that he was very low and questioning whether it was all worth it”.
He recorded Archie’s medical cause of death as a catastrophic hypoxic-ischemic brain injury, secondary to strangulation.
A tearful Ms Dance told of finding her son unresponsive by their staircase before running outside and screaming for help.
She said: “I was crying hysterically, I was saying ‘please don’t leave mummy, I love you little man’.
“I repeated that over and over, I just didn’t want him to leave me.”
Asked by Mr Brookes how she thinks her son died, Ms Dance replied: “I think he climbed on the bannister and probably fell, causing serious injury to his neck, resulting in unconsciousness.”
She said she believed her son’s death was an accident.
Detective Sergeant Tiffany Gore said that Archie had written in Whatsapp messages about being depressed and having thoughts of self-harm.
In one, the youngster wrote: “That’s why I’m so depressed all the time and I don’t cut my wrists but I have tried and thought about killing myself.”
Detective Inspector Sarah Weeks said: “On the day of the incident Archie was looking forward to his first MMA fight and had chosen the music for his entrance.” She said he had been playing with his pet rabbit and looking to buy a coat.
He liked to shock those around him, perhaps even more so those he cared about
Essex senior coroner Lincoln Brookes
Ms Weeks said Archie was found in an “unusual position on the stairs” and it may not be possible to establish what motivated Archie to place the cord round his neck.
Earlier, Ms Gore told the hearing that officers found a voice note from four days before he died on Archie’s phone.
In the audio, a young male voice said: “Oi Archie, do you know why you’re angry? Because your mum wanted you to be an abortion.”
Ms Gore said police recovered 695 images and 282 videos from Archie’s phone. She said that none showed Archie with anything around his head or neck or participating in any challenges.
Archie’s older half-sister Lauren Summers said that the day before the incident, Archie was playing, trying to pull a door closed with a cord attached to the top of his head.
Ms Dance said Archie was the “apple of my eye”, “well loved” and “protected”.
Doctors treating Archie at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, east London, thought he was brain-stem dead and said continued life-support treatment was not in his best interests – a decision his parents repeatedly challenged in the courts.