A coroner has issued a warning about the dangers of eating berries from trees after a 14-year-old boy collapsed and died during a walk with his dad. Benn Curran-Nicholls was poisoned after ingesting leaves and berries from a yew tree.
An inquest has now been heard into his death. It was told that Benn, who had severe autism, enjoyed climbing yew trees during his daily walks with his father in Fletcher Moss Park, Didsbury, Manchester.
However, after coming back from a walk on September 18, 2022, he “slumped” and his eyes “started to roll around his head”. He died after “several hours” of medical attention at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. A post-mortem concluded Benn suffered ‘refractory cardiogenic shock’, reports the M.E.N.
The tragedy has led coroner Andrew Bridgman to issue a report about the dangers of eating yew tree berries. He also criticised the “illogical” decision to not issue a public health warning following Benn’s death.
Mr Bridgman wrote: “Benn Curran-Nicholls moved to Didsbury with his family from Australia in June 2022. Benn suffered severe autism with intellectual impairment, and daily walks in the local parks became a part of his daily routine.
“On the morning of September 18, 2022, Benn and his father went for a walk in Fletcher Moss Park where, among other things, there was a yew tree that Benn liked to climb. Benn ate some yew tree berries and also some of the leaves.
“Benn’s father was not aware of the poisonous nature of yew tree berries/leaves, and so took no action. Interestingly neither was, in his evidence to me, Manchester City Council’s Neighbourhood Manager for Environmental Health aware that yew trees were poisonous.
“Later that day at about 6pm Benn suddenly collapsed. He was admitted to Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital by emergency ambulance where he died in the early hours of September 19, 2022. Toxicological evidence was that yew tree poisoning in humans was rare, but that a number of cases had been reported.”
After Benn’s death, discussions took place between the council and UK Health Security Agency about alerting the public to the dangers of yew trees.
An email from UKHSA to the council read: “We agreed at present that there was probably a risk of doing more harm than good from any comms put out, we would be very concerned about unintended consequences from comms messages, e.g. highlighting the risk of harm which may in turn provide a source for people to self-harm as a potential route for suicide.”
The coroner, who recorded the cause of death as “yew tree poisoning”, described the decision not to issue a warning as “illogical” in his prevention of future deaths report. He wrote: “Berries and the like might be attractive to young children who would not recognise the dangers and risks, of even illness let alone death. The poisonous nature of the yew tree is not, on the evidence, well known to the public.
“The decision appears to be focused on comms solely about the yew tree and the risks of identifying an additional means of deliberate ingestion for suicide. No consideration was given to highlighting the risks of eating wild berries and/or leaves in more general terms.
“In the circumstance, it is my view that the decision not to put out public health messages, either specific to the yew tree or in more general terms, was not properly and fully thought through. It should be re-visited.”
The coroner also asked the council to consider putting up warning signs around the park. He wrote: “There is a risk of a death arising in similar circumstances, and informing the public will clearly reduce the risk of those deaths. Perhaps particularly so for a child whose carer would be so informed.”