‘I can’t accept it. It’s not right. It should never have happened.’

James and mum Joanne during happier times
James and mum Joanne during happier times

Mum tells of her heartbreak after coroner apologises over huge delay in her son’s body being released.

A distraught mum has told of her horror after a paperwork blunder at the coroner’s office meant her teenage son’s body was not released for nine days after his suicide.

Joanne with a memory board of plaster casts and handprints of James.

Joanne with a memory board of plaster casts and handprints of James.

By the time Joanne Hargreaves-Doherty finally got to see 16-year-old James, she said his body was in such a poor condition she had to close the lid on his coffin.

The 46-year-old, from Cleveleys, said: “I went to give him a kiss and his skin came away in my hands.

“I was screaming my head off. That’s my last memory of him. I will never forget it.”

Lancashire coroner Dr James Adeley has apologised to Joanne and blamed the delay on new computer software and a heavy workload.

I appreciate entirely that I cannot turn the clocks back for you and make things better, but I can try to make sure that other families have a considerably better experience than you have had.

“Please accept my deepest condolences on the death of your son,” he said in a letter.

“This is every parent’s worst nightmare and please accept my unreserved apologies for having made matters worse at an extremely traumatic time.

“I appreciate entirely that I cannot turn the clocks back for you and make things better, but I can try to make sure that other families have a considerably better experience than you have had.”

Popular James, who hanged himself in woodland, died on Wednesday August 10 last year.

A post-mortem examination was carried out two days later, and Joanne said she was told his body would be moved to the funeral home on Monday August 15.

But it wasn’t until four days later, on the Friday, that James was moved.

Joanne said the funeral director was shut on Saturday and Sunday, and said the next time she could visit her son was on Wednesday August 23.

Speaking from her home, she told The Gazette her son’s fingers had turned purple, his eyes had sunk, and his head had swollen.

“I expected him to look like James but he didn’t,” she said.

“I can’t accept it. It’s not right. It should never have happened.”

In his letter, Dr Adeley, based in Fulwood in Preston, said: “Unfortunately, due to the difficulties we were experiencing with new software, the workload the administrators were under was very high and they appear not to have received or dealt with the documentation.

“To mitigate against such problems, my coroner’s officers should check with the mortuaries each day as to what bodies are resident.

“This ensures that bodies are always accounted for and checked. Unfortunately, the staff member was working single-handedly as her colleague was on leave and her workload was very high. Because James was at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, where very few bodies under my control reside, the worker did not check with the Blackpool mortuary.

“Consequently, the lack of documentation release James was not spotted until later the next week. Although it is cold comfort, I cannot recall another episode where both the coroner’s officers and the administrators have failed to pick up a problem such as this, as we try to guard against it knowing the distress it causes. Please again accept my unreserved apologises for the additional distress that you were put through.”

Rejecting the apology, Joanne, who added the coroner recorded a verdict of suicide at his inquest, said she feels ‘robbed’ of spending time with her son before his funeral service, which was attended by 500 mourners, and added: “The last image I have of James is of his skin in my hands. This is now with me forever.”

James’ former headteacher, Toni Roethling, last year led the calls for more to be done to tackle mental health problems faced by youngsters.

Speaking after she stepped down from her role to care for her daughter, who had attempted suicide several times, she said: “We are getting primary school children coming to us with severe problems.

“What does need to happen is earlier intervention. Most schools are overwhelmed.”

There is no suggestion James was bullied in class, with his problems starting after he left Hodgson, and the school offered counselling to pupils to help them cope with their grief following his death.

The school said the community had been left ‘deeply shocked and saddened’, and added at the time: “We, as a caring community, are coming together to support each other through this difficult time and have put additional pastoral provision in place for our students.”

Cheryl Brindle, headteacher at Breck, James’ old primary school, sent his family her love, while Hodgson teacher Michael Foster said he was ‘devastated’ by the news.

“All my thoughts when I think of James are of a boy full of life and promise,” he said.

“We had many, many man-to-man chats over the years and it was always a pleasure to talk to such a well- mannered and goo- natured young man.”

French teacher Susan Emmett added: “I have such happy memories of James in my lessons. He always brought a smile to my face.”

What a terrible loss.”

Coroner’s Statement

Dr James Adeley told The Gazette: “I have apologised profusely for the events that occurred in relation to James and the additional distress caused to Mrs Hargreaves-Doherty which I regret deeply.

“We are installing a new computer system this week that should prevent events like this and additional work is ongoing regarding resourcing coroner’s officers.”

The police said:

Detective Inspector Kevin Simmons, of Blackpool CID, said: “In the early hours of August 10 last year we received a report that the body of a 16-year-old boy had been found in a wooded area close to Wardle Drive, Thornton Cleveleys.

“We looked into the circumstances surrounding the death and found no evidence of third-party involvement. There was evidence the boy had received online messages prior to his death, which referred to money he owed to some associates.

“However, we found no evidence that direct threats of violence had been made towards him and our investigation concluded that his death was non-suspicious.

“Our thoughts very much remain with his family and friends at this difficult time.”

Officers said three teenage boys were arrested on suspicion of supplying drugs as part of their investigation into James’ death.

A 15-year-old from Fleetwood and a 16-year-old from Blackpool were given cautions.

A 17-year-old from Fleetwood was charged with possession of a class B drug and referred to the Youth Offending Team.