Published: 17:13, 20 September 2021
| Updated: 14:54, 08 October 2021
A talented schoolboy who took his own life in woods had told friends of his suicide plan in troubling messages shared ahead of the tragedy.
The alarming revelation emerged today during an inquest into the death of 16-year-old Lucas Webb, who was a pupil at Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury.
He had openly discussed suicide with friends on messaging platform Discord in the weeks before his death in December last year.
And only a month before the tragedy Lucas had gone to a chalk pit with three school pals to reportedly watch another jump to his death.
There was no suicide attempt and the incident was dismissed by the group as a “joke”, with only the parents of the boy who threatened to jump informed by the school.
But Lucas’s parents maintain they too should have been alerted by teachers of their son’s involvement.
Because a month later, 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, near his home.
A post-mortem examination revealed he had died from asphyxiation.
At the inquest in Maidstone today, investigating police officer DS Anthony Welch said suicide had been discussed on Discord between a group of boys from the school, including Lucas.
He told the court he had seen screenshots of messages which indicated Lucas was unhappy and had “intent and a plan” to take his own life.
The teenager 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, adding 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 assistant head Matthew Tithecott, who rushed to the scene on his bicycle.
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 added.
‘Pupil 4’ was accompanied by Lucas when he saw the teacher.
“Both appeared quite jovial,” said Mr Tithecott. But he nevertheless contacted ‘Pupil 4’’s parents about the incident and recorded it in the school’s safeguarding log.
But when questioned about Lucas, he said he had no concerns about him at the time and did not think it necessary to inform his parents, or those of the other boys involved.
Lucas’s parents were represented at the hearing by barrister Edmund Gritt, who quizzed Mr Tithecott on the school’s safeguarding policy.
He questioned whether it would have been more appropriate to contact all the boys’ parents in the group given Mr Tithecott had admitted it was an “unusual incident”.
The school’s head of safeguarding, Stefan Peto, told the inquest he considered Mr Tithecott’s judgement had been appropriate at the time, although he had not seen the social media posts which gave rise to the concerns.
He added that he did not have any concerns about Lucas, who had not reported any issues to safeguarding staff.
But he accepted that a safeguarding review after his death had concluded that the parents of the other boys should have been alerted to the incident.
Lucas’s parents said they only became aware of it five days after his death.
Mr Peto said the school holds weekly safeguarding meetings, where issues and concerns are raised and action, if needed, instigated.
But he added that "after a period of reflection", the school had subsequently reviewed its policies which were being updated, in particular with regards to the interpretation of risk.
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 parents, Alison and Colin Webb, said his death had come as a "bolt out the the blue".
At the opening of the inquest Mrs Webb read a statement about their son for those at the hearing who did not know him.
She tearfully told the coroner about Lucas's "near-perfect" GSCE record and how he excelled at maths and computer science and had spoken excitedly and optimistically about his future.
"He was a grafter who took pride in his work and spent hours studying."
Lucas, she said, had set up his own software company with a friend and wanted to do work experience with a Swedish company in his gap year after A-levels.
"He had life mapped out and even talked about marriage, mortgages and even pensions," she said.
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.
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.
"What happened was undoubtedly a terrible shock to his family. I appreciate all of you attending today in the most difficult of circumstances and can only offer you my personal condolences at this time," she said.
She also 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.
He said its policies were based on a recognised externally sourced template which was regularly updated.
"All staff are required to read and understand it, " he said.
He believed the school had responded appropriately to the first suicide threat but it recognised a need to improve.
He added: "It is not possible to write all permutations into school policy. It must be decided on a fact-based basis or may be unrealistic or counter-productive, if trying to capture every risk."
Following his death, Lucas's devastated parents, told how their son "set off on a bike ride and never came home".
"For us as parents, it came like a bolt out of the blue as we had no reason to suspect he was suffering with his mental health," they said on a JustGiving page which raised almost £13,000 for the Young Minds Trust.
"He hid his struggles from us, seemingly not able to reach out to anyone for help.
"The Covid pandemic lockdown has affected us all but for Lucas it had a profound impact on the vital social interactions in and out of school that teenagers crave.
"If Lucas had confided in someone, we are certain this tragic loss of life could have been avoided and we would have had him to hug, to laugh with and to share with us this Christmas...."
"He had been so excited to start sixth form in September and poured himself into his A-levels, studying religiously as always.
"Family life continued as normal until one afternoon, he set off on a bike ride and never came home."
"There had been no argument, no obvious trigger and no concern for his welfare.
"He was always so dependable, self-motivated and confident and we were so proud of him.
"From that point onwards our loss became a very public ordeal.
"It was only after his death we discovered he had been battling with his feelings for several weeks. As parents, we strive to protect our children and yet we have not been able to protect Lucas from his own negative thoughts.
"If Lucas had confided in someone, we are certain this tragic loss of life could have been avoided and we would have had him to hug, to laugh with and to share with us this Christmas."
"In Lucas’ 16 years of life, he proved that he had a talent for learning and achieving," they said.
"Highly self-motivated, he adored all things science related and was an inspiration to many of his peers who respected his drive, humour and creativity.
"Lucas was a caring, handsome and unbelievably witty son and brother who always succeeded in out-debating any of us!
"We as a family are utterly devastated at the thought of our beautiful Lucas no longer being with us."
Simon Langton head teacher Ken Moffat said after today's inquest: "The school has felt deeply the tragic death of Lucas.
"He was a highly gifted young man with a bright future.
"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.
"He is missed by the whole school community."
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