Coroner clashes with ex-teacher over death of Wirksworth teenager

David Baker.
David Baker.
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The former head teacher at the school where tragic teenager Joe Southam studied has been accused of “damage limitation” and failing to tell police about a drugs incident involving the 15-year-old.

David Baker admitted in court that he did not follow Wirksworth’s Anthony Gell School’s policy of informing police when Joe supplied a hallucinogenic substance to a fellow pupil, which left the boy hospitalised.

Dr Robert Hunter.

Dr Robert Hunter.

He said he did not tell officers because he believed they were already aware that Joe had been involved. He was challenged on this by coroner Dr Robert Hunter, at the inquest into the Wirksworth teenager’s death at Derby and Derbyshire Coroner’s Court. But Mr Baker received the backing of Joe’s mum Barbara Southam, who said she believed his school “did all they could” to help her son.

The second day of the inquest on Tuesday heard Joe had supplied LSZ, a hallucinogenic LSD-substitute, to a fellow pupil who ended up in the Royal Derby Hospital as a result. At the time LSZ was a so-called legal high but has since been made illegal.

Dr Hunter said to Mr Baker: “You did not follow the school’s policy of telling police.” Mr Baker replied: “The police were aware of the issue.” Dr Hunter said: “I may be wrong but I just get the impression this was an attempt at damage limitation.” Mr Baker replied: “Absolutely not. The school is fundamental to Wirksworth. That would never, ever, ever, enter my mind. This was a very big event for the school.”

Dr Hunter asked: “It was when [Joe] died – it was not when he was supplying?” Mr Baker replied: “I would respectfully disagree with you, sir.”

Mrs Southam told the hearing: “I feel that the school did everything they could for Joe, absolutely.”

Joe died after choking on his own vomit following a heroin overdose at his house on Canterbury Terrace on July 31, 2014. His inquest has previously been told how the “outstandingly talented” schoolboy bought drugs on the so-called dark web – a secretive part of the internet where crime is rife.

Joe was discovered collapsed on his bed by Mrs Southam, who called 999. He was airlifted to the Royal Derby Hospital from his home in Canterbury Terrace, Wirksworth, and pronounced dead later the same morning.

Mick De Cartaret also gave evidence at yesterday’s hearing. He works for T3, a voluntary organisation that offers support to Derbyshire youngsters aged 19 and under and who are using drugs and alcohol. He said Joe had three voluntary appointments with him and his team.

He said: “In the first session, he [Joe] declared he had been using cannabis, codeine and alcohol and had isolated use of ecstasy, mephedrone, amphetamine and tranquillisers.” Dr Hunter said: “It seems, from the evidence I’ve heard so far and from what I have read, that Joe was in the realms of experimentation.”

The inquest continues.