Father of tragic teen says 'son was not heard'

Stephens dad Andrew told the inquest that his son could be as mentally intelligent as an adult, with a remarkable ability to process information, yet emotionally he was like talking to a pre-pubescent child.
Stephens dad Andrew told the inquest that his son could be as mentally intelligent as an adult, with a remarkable ability to process information, yet emotionally he was like talking to a pre-pubescent child.

The father of an autistic teenager who tragically took his own life has said he believes his son was not  listened to.

Stephen Mortimer, 14, was found dead at his home in Calder Vale, near Garstang, in January.

The teenager struggled to cope with anxiety and expressed it through talk of guns and death, health experts said during the second day of his inquest at Lancaster Magistrates’ Court.

Coroner Richard Taylor returned a narrative conclusion, saying he could not be sure “beyond reasonable doubt” that Stephen had intended to take his own life.

Stephen’s dad Andrew told the inquest that his son could be as mentally intelligent as an adult, with a “remarkable” ability to process information, yet emotionally he was “like talking to a pre-pubescent child.”

But he also said his son “was not heard.”

Stephen had started at a new school shortly before Christmas following a series of incidents at his previous school, Ripley St Thomas in Lancaster.

Ripley principal Liz Nicholls had earlier told the inquest that although Stephen had settled in well at her school, by Year 9 he was becoming increasingly disturbed in lessons, talking about killing other people and becoming fascinated by school massacres.

Following a playground altercation with other pupils last May, on the same day the youngster told a teacher he wanted to jump out of the window to kill himself, Stephen was given a five-day exclusion from school.

Mrs Nicholls said: “My first duty as headteacher is to keep the children safe and we were really wondering how we could keep Stephen and other children safe.”

After being referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) team, it was decided he could not return to mainstream school until there was more support, so he was put into ‘learning support’ at Ripley, where he remained until the end of the summer term.

Julie Price from the CAMHS team said Stephen was initially “overwhelmed and distrustful of professionals” but she noted improvement by November when he moved to a new school. “He was happy in his new school,” she said. “He was learning to play the guitar and was quite jovial. It was nice to see that change in behaviour.”

Ms Price said Stephen was “very vocal” that he would not cause himself or others any harm.

“He felt he didn’t fit in and he wanted to fit in,” she said. “He was a little bit lost I think.

“At times I didn’t feel like Stephen felt supported. I was trying to be his voice. I felt very much like it was lost.”

Educational psychologist Liz Eddington said Stephen told her he felt “very stressed” thinking about school.

However, following the medical intervention, Stephen began looking more positively at life, his father said. He appeared to have settled at his new school and had talked to his sister Helen about the future and choosing a career path.

Despite this, as the new term approached in January Stephen became increasingly agitated again. His body was found after Andrew and his wife Caroline reported him missing to police on January 4, the day before his new school term began.

Returning his narrative conclusion, Mr Taylor said he didn’t believe Stephen’s family could have done any more for him. “The evidence indicates that you were trying to do the very best for your son during very difficult times,” he told Stephen’s parents. “The heath care professionals agreed that he was emotionally immature but had never had any suicidal intent. I cannot possibly in my opinion return a conclusion of suicide.”

After the inquest, Stephen’s family said in a statement: “We are all very grateful for the support we have received from the authorities, family, friends and the community of Calder Vale following the tragic loss of Stephen. He is always in our thoughts.”