Oldham teen found frozen to death in alley: GMP officer tells inquest ‘more should have been done’ in search

A police officer has told an inquest of his regret after an Oldham schoolboy was found frozen to death in an alleyway following a drunken night out with friends.

Leon Cudworth, 15, had promised his father he would home by midnight when he said he was going out for the evening  but it is thought he didn’t come back until 2am.

Neighbours awoke to hear a boy crying and shouting ‘dad, dad’ but although police were called due to the noise, officers failed to carry out a thorough search of the area as they did not think it was an emergency.

Leon was found lying on his back by passers-by in a nearby alleyway at 7.30am after he braved the rainy and windy night in temperatures of just three degrees celcius, wearing a flimsy jacket T-shirt, jeans and shoes.

Despite attempts to revive him, paramedics declared Leon dead at7.56am. 

PC Steven Norris of Greater Manchester Police, who searched the area in the hours before Leon was found dead, told the hearing he did not examine it thorougly as only one phonecall had been made about the noise disturbance.

Had there been more calls the search would have been more widespread. He insisted he had got out of the patrol car but admitted he had no working torch.

“With hindsight we should have extended the search,” he said.

“We should have done more. What we did at the time, I thought it was sufficient.”

His colleague PC Andrew Peters who did have a torch said he had only looked in one direction and had wandered into a field.

He added: ‘’When I think back on my actions I believe that I should have checked to the right as well.

“At one point I heard a noise it sounded like a female, very briefly, but it was quite a distance away. If I believed the noise was coming from anywhere nearby I would have investigated.’’

Tests showed he suffered from hypothermia and would have been more than twice the legal limit for driving. His back door key was found next to his body.

The hearing was told Leon, from Oldham, Greater Manchester, was the youngest of four children and had grown up to be ‘lively and fun’ and a popular sportsman, playing both football and rugby and riding BMX bokes.

The tragedy occurred on Valentines Day after he went for a night out at Aspins and Danielles bars in the Lees area.

The teenager spoke with his father Michael at around 11.30pm telling him he was in a wine bar and would be home around midnight.

But one neighbour who awoke at 2am heard noises coming from the back of her house which overlooks an unlit alleyway.

Tracy Royal said that she had heard a number of bangs adding: “It was like a punching bang and I woke up. It was quite loud. I heard a young boy and he was shouting ‘dad dad.’

‘”At first I thought it was someone who had been locked out, left their keys and been locked out and trying to get in. I did get up and look through the blinds and I could still hear the shouting he was crying and sounded tired.

“I got up again to have a look at about 2.40am and looked out the window again but I didn’t see anything. I thought he had got in the house. I felt awful because I could have phoned the police.”

But another neighbour Sarah Collins was so concerned she phoned the police after believing she could hear a female screaming.

She told the inquest: “I heard a screaming or shouting noise. I sleep with my bedroom window open so it was quite clear. Originally I thought it was some animals like foxes screeching.

‘’It carried on and carried on it sounded like a person. Screaming and screeching but also like mumbling noises, it sounded like a couple of people. That continued for quite a while and it was about 2am.

“I got up out of bed went downstairs and made a drink. I got back in bed after about 10 minutes and I could still hear it. At that point I phoned the police. I was concerned that somebody was being attacked – the volume and intensity of the noise and the length of time it was going on.

“It’s not unusual to hear noises but unusual to hear noises of that nature. It was pretty consistent at that time. I had looked out at the window but couldn’t see anything.’’

She said she stayed up and watched the police arrive around five to 10 minutes later.

She added: “I think there were two I think one was in the car. One got out with the torch and I think one was in the car. He didn’t really go far. He stayed quite close to the car. I know that he only looked at the land directly behind.”  The patrolmen left a few minutes later.

Leon’s father told the hearing he had made contact with his son who said that ‘he wouldn’t be long’.

He then went to bed and although he was a ‘light sleeper’ woke up the following morning at at 9am, realised that Leon wasn’t in his bed and tried calling him on his phone.

He said: “I spoke to a couple of his friends who he was with the night before to see if he was there, both were surprised that he wasn’t home.”

He told the inquest he saw a police cordon close to his home and received a text message from a friend saying that police had found a body.

He added: “I said Leon hadn’t come home. I just needed to know – my mind was all over the place. I went back up and spoke to the police.”

Home Office pathologist Dr Philip Lumb gave the cause of death as hypothermia and acute alcohol intoxication and said it was very difficult to determine when Leon had died.

He added: ‘’One of the main risk factors in this case is alcohol it can cause significant risk of hypothermia developing, judgement could be poor, may not realise that getting cold.

“Alcohol concentration was high it may have affected judgement hypothermia can develop relatively quickly. The cold can kill within minutes hypothermia causes confusion as well.”

Toxicology tests revealed Leon’s blood alcohol level was 173 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit for driving is 80mg.

The inquest continues.

Story via Cavendish Press

Image courtesy of Facebook, with thanks.

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