Archie Battersbee died accidentally in a “prank or experiment” that went wrong and had not intended to harm himself, a coroner has concluded. The 12-year-old’s life support was withdrawn on August 6, 2022, after his parents, Hollie Dance and Paul Battersbee, failed in bids to overturn a High Court ruling that doctors could lawfully do so.
Judges were told Ms Dance found Archie unconscious with a ligature over his head at home in Southend, Essex, on April 7 last year. Essex’s senior coroner Lincoln Brookes described Archie 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”. He said that 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 round 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 catastrophic hypoxic ischemic brain injury, secondary to strangulation.
Detective Sergeant Tiffany Gore said that Archie had written in Whatsapp messages about being depressed and 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.
Ms Weeks said Archie was found in an “unusual position on the stairs”. “It may not be possible to establish what motivated Archie to place the cord round his neck,” she said.
Ms Gore said police recovered 695 images and 282 videos from Archie’s phone. She said that none of these showed Archie with anything around his head or neck, or participating in any challenges.
Speaking outside court after the inquest, Ms Dance said the coroner had reached the “right decision”. She said the inquest had helped her with “some of the answers, but not all”, adding: “It’s time to allow us as a family to grieve.”
She said her family had experienced trolling and that online abuse was a “major issue that really does have to be addressed”.
Asked how she would like people to remember Archie, she said: “As fun-loving, very energetic, one of the most talented children I know.”