Mum’s heartbreak as baby found dead in her bed with cocaine in his bloodstream

A coroner has ruled that a baby’s sudden death was not caused by his mum co-sleeping with him or the traces of cocaine found in his blood.

Little Harry Chester’s mother Natalie Whitehead woke up at 11am on the morning of June 11 2018 to find her baby dead in bed next to her.

The panicked mum called paramedics but when they arrived, they found the six-week-old completely lifeless and with blood in his mouth and their attempts to resuscitate Harry were "futile".

An inquest into the tot’s death was opened yesterday, March 25, at Accrington Town Hall.

The inquest heard the cause of death could not be ascertained and pathologists agreed it was a case of Sudden Unexplained Death in Infancy.

After two pathologists, Dr Melanie Newbold and Dr Charles Wilson, both agreed that the trace of benzoylecgonine in Harry’s blood did not contribute to or cause Harry’s death, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute Miss Whitehead.

When the inquest resumed today, reports LancashireLive, the coroner made a number of findings regarding the drugs in Harry’s system and the possibility that co-sleeping had contributed to or caused his death.

He recorded a rarely-used open conclusion – used by coroners where there is insufficient evidence to come to any other conclusion.

Assistant Coroner Philip Holden began the inquest by revealing police had considered "potential criminal proceedings regarding both parents – in particularly mum Natalie".

The police investigation was launched after a post mortem found a small amount of cocaine metabolite benzoylecgonine in Harry’s blood. He also had fluoxetine in his system – an anti-depressant which his mother had been prescribed for post-natal depression.

Miss Whitehead was interviewed twice by detectives after Harry’s death – once under caution, in order to consider the potential offences of child neglect or overlay – whereby an infant is suffocated by a parent who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

During the interviews, Miss Whitehead read out a prepared statement and made "predominantly no comment" responses to the questions put to her.

In her statement, Miss Whitehead said: "On June 11 my six-week-old son tragically passed away. Harry was taken to the Royal Blackburn Hospital, I was very distressed and my recollection is confused.

"I deny committing any offence and I didn’t kill Harry."

After two pathologists, Dr Melanie Newbold and Dr Charles Wilson, both agreed that the trace of benzoylecgonine in Harry’s blood did not contribute to or cause Harry’s death, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute Miss Whitehead.

In his summing-up, the coroner described the events of the evening and said that Harry’s mum joined him in bed at about 5am.

"Harry was likely still alive at this time," he said.

"His mother woke some hours later at approximately 11am to find Harry unresponsive and noticed blood in his nostrils and what she thought was bruising to Harry’s body.

  • Heartbreaking tributes paid to footie-mad boy, 11, who died suddenly in his sleep

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"Paramedics were called," he continued, "and police, and it was clear to paramedics that hypostasis (post mortem blood pooling under the skin) and rigor mortis had already set in and unfortunately Harry’s death was confirmed at 11.31am.

"It is clear in my judgement that blood seen by the mother to the nostril occurred naturally post mortem and was not as a consequence of any trauma Harry had sustained."

"Toxicology revealed in Harry’s blood there were small amounts of benzoylecgonine and fluoxetine.

He said that it was unclear how the trace amount of cocaine had got into Harry’s bloodstream.

"It could have occurred as a consequence of breast-feeding but there is no evidence that Harry’s mother consumed cocaine."

He added: "It could have come from Harry touching a surface with cocaine powder on it or from Harry being in the presence of somebody, unknown, smoking crack cocaine in that form. I simply cannot make a determination.

"However I do accept the evidence that there were small quantities only detected and they would not have contributed to Harry’s death."

The coroner referred to a report by forensic pathologist Dr Charles Wilson who considered whether co-sleeping could have contributed to Harry’s death.

Dr Wilson explained that co-sleeping has been shown to contribute to a higher risk of sudden infant death, although the exact reason for this is not completely understood.

The coroner accepted the pathologist’s evidence and said: "I am unable to come to the conclusion that the fact of co-sleeping contributed to Harry’s death."

Giving an open conclusion Mr Holden also added a narrative to the record of inquest and said: "Neither the cocaine nor fluoxetine contributed to his death.

"There is an increased risk of death in young infants who co-sleep with adults but it is not possible to determine whether co-sleeping with his mother contributed to Harry’s death and his death remains sudden and unexplained."

Harry’s mother failed to turn up to the inquest, despite being summonsed, and at the end of the inquest today the coroner said that it did not seem appropriate in the circumstances. to issue a warrant for her arrest.

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