United Kingdom

Grammar school student, 16, who took his own life in woodland was egged on by a social media group

A talented Grammar school student who took his own life in woods was egged on by a social media group and entered a suicide pact with another boy, an inquest has heard.

Lucas Webb, 16, was reported missing by his parents on the afternoon of December 12 after failing to return from a ride on his bicycle.

The Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys pupil was found dead in woodland near Canterbury on December 13.  

Only a month before Lucas has been involved in an apparent suicide pact involving a different boy who had threatened to jump off a cliff. 

Lucas was among a group who left the school to go to a chalk pit, but nothing happened and it was later dismissed by the boys as just 'joking around' when investigated by school staff.

But on December 12 last year, Lucas was reported missing, sparking a widespread search involving 150 people.

His body was tragically discovered the following day in Covet Wood, Barham, Kent, near his home.

A post-mortem examination revealed he had died from asphyxiation.

At the inquest an investigating police officer said that before Lucas ended his life suicide had been discussed on social media platform Discord between a group of boys from Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury.

Lucas Webb, 16, was reported missing by his parents on the afternoon of December 12 after failing to return from a ride on his bicycle 

Officers found Lucas in an area of woodland near Barham village on December 13

DS Anthony Welch said screenshots of messages he had seen from the group indicated Lucas was unhappy and had 'intent and a plan' to take his own life.

He also displayed an in-depth knowledge of various suicide methods, and told friends not to mention his plan.

'There was a degree of egging on, while others were saying he should speak to his parents,' DS Welch said.

DS Welch said he was satisfied there had been no third-party involvement in Lucas's death.

But the inquest heard that alarm bells were first rung on November 16 when another pupil, known as 'Pupil 4', had posted on social media that he planned to take his own life by jumping into a chalk pit.

A concerned pupil alerted Matthew Tithecott - the school's assistant head with responsibility for mental health and wellbeing - who rushed out on his bicycle to the scene.

Mr Tithecott found the group of about five boys walking back towards the school.

'They seemed to be walking and chatting quite happily and said they had been out for a walk,' he told the coroner.

Mr Tithecott said he then spoke separately to 'Pupil 4' back at the school, who said he had 'only been joking' about jumping into the chalk pit.

'I told him it was not the sort of thing to be joking about,' he told the inquest.

Lucas's parents said they only became aware of it five days after his death.

Coroner Joanne Andrews was told Lucas was feeling down because of the effect of the pandemic lockdown, but there were no other indications as to why he would have taken his own life.

His mother told the Maidstone hearing: 'He had life mapped out and even talked about marriage, mortgages and even pensions,' she said.

A major search was launched for the missing 16-year-old as a police helicopter was called and 100 volunteers scoured a Kent village in the search for the missing boy

She went on to explain how her son was a 'bright academic' and had just received near-perfect GCSE results.

He was described as a 'grafter' and had already set up his own software company with a friend, named Substandard Studios

Mrs Webb says she keeps a precious note which Lucas wrote to her, saying: 'Mum, I love you so much. I don't know what I would do without you.'

She added the mental impact of his death on the family had been 'horrific'.

'We never saw this coming and are devastated we never had the opportunity to help him,' she added.

Despite Lucas' phone being pin-locked, police were able to obtain some chat logs after his death.

A vast number of messages were exchanged over Discord, where he discussed his unhappiness and talked about ending his life.

Around one month before his death, he even posted messages which displayed an in-depth knowledge in various methods of suicide.

The family's QC, Mr Gritt, said he believed the school's safeguarding policy was 'weak, lacked clarity and was, at best, only hesitant'.

He asked the coroner to consider writing a Regulation 28 report to identify causes for concern that, if addressed, could prevent future deaths.

In recording his death as a suicide, coroner Joanne Andrews said she was satisfied it was his intention.

In a concluding statement the coroner said: 'I would like to start by saying how grateful I am for Mrs Webb's statement.

'What happened was understandably a terrible, terrible shock for the family, I can only offer my personal condolences at this time.

'My conclusion is that Lucas died by suicide, and that he took the actions he did that day with the intention of ending his life.'

She said that it had been suggested that there is a weakness in the safeguarding policy of the school and she should prepare a Regulation 28 report to help prevent such future deaths.

'Having considered very carefully my position in this case, I do not think I can make a regulation 28 report, ' she said.

Solicitor Nicholas Chapman, representing the school, said it took its safeguarding responsibilities very seriously.

Simon Langton head teacher Ken Moffat said after the inquest: 'We had no idea or indication that his thoughts had taken such a dark turn and significant periods of enforced self-isolation kept him away from school during the Autumn and Winter.'

For confidential support, call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch. See www.samaritans.org for details. 

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