Oldham boy, 15, found frozen to death after night out prompts underage drink warning

A coroner has warned about the dangers of underage drinking, after a 15-year-old Oldham schoolboy was found frozen to death when he failed to find his way home following a drunken night out with friends.

Leon Cudworth had promised his father he would home by midnight but it is thought he didn’t come back until 1am and was so ‘delirious’ due to the cold and his intake of vodka, he became disorientated and staggered passed his own home.

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.

At 7.30am Leon – who had also been smoking cannabis – was found lying on his back by passers-by in a nearby alleyway just 35 metres from his front door having braved the rainy and windy night in near freezing temperatures wearing a flimsy jacket T-shirt, jeans and shoes.

Despite attempts to revive him, he was pronounced dead at the scene.

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.

After a two day inquest in Heywood, Greater Manchester Assistant Coroner Lisa Hashmi recorded a verdict of accidental death and said: “I hope that lessons will be learnt by young people and take heed of the tragic circumstances in which Leon died. I hope word will spread of the very dire consequences.

“The risks to both young people and adults alike in the misuse of drugs and alcohol in particular, cannot be overemphasised. It was very cold, temperatures close to freezing and Leon had not dressed for the prevailing conditions.

“It has been a harrowing two days for the family who have showed great sense of character. The pain of the loss of your son will be with you for a very long time if not permanently.”

The tragedy occurred on Valentines Day after the ‘lively and fun’ teenager went for a night out with a group of friends aged 16,17 and 18.

They met in the Junction House pub in Lees before making their way to Tesco and purchasing vodka before stopping at an off-licence to buy further drinks.

They went to a house party where Leon was seen drinking alcohol before leaving to go to Danielle’s Bar where Leon and a friend were refused entry at the pub.

He was later let in through the rear fire doors before the group then got a taxi to a McDonald’s diner where Leon was last seen leaving on his own at midnight.

CCTV captured him walking unsteady on his feet near his home at 1.21am.

The inquest heard temperatures plunged overnight from two degrees celcius to minus 0.7 and neighbours were woken after hearing banging and Leon screaming for his father in the street.

Tracy Royal said: “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.”

Another neighbor, Sarah Collins, said: “Originally I thought it was some animals like foxes screeching but it carried on and it sounded like a person. 

“I got out of bed and made a drink but after about 10 minutes 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.”

She said she stayed up and watched the police arrive around five to 10 minutes later as the patrolmen made a brief search of the area but left a few minutes later.

Leon’s father, Michael, said he made contact with his son at 11.30pm who said ‘he wouldn’t be long’ and he then went to bed and although he was a ‘light sleeper’, he woke up the following morning at 9am realising that Leon wasn’t at home 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 that he was to see 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.

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.

PC Steven Norris, who searched the area in the hours before Leon was found dead, told the hearing he did not examine it more fully as only one phonecall had been made about the noises.

He admitted not having a working torch and added: “With hindsight we should have extended the search. 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.”

Det Insp Anne Buckley said: “It’s a tragic set of circumstances.

“In my opinion Leon has gone out in the evening ill-prepared for the bad weather which was to come and I believe he has been overwhelmed by the effects of the cold and weather.

“I truly believe that Leon was in such a state that he was delirious.  He doesn’t know where he is and he made some attempts to attract attention.

“Alcohol can affect people in different ways.”

Police have spoken to various licensed premises which sold alcohol to the group of friends during the evening.

Story via Cavendish Press

Main image courtesy of Terry Freedman, with thanks

Inset image courtesy of Facebook, with thanks

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