Inquest into death of baby at vicarage halted as coroner refers case to DPP


An inquest into the death of a baby boy at a vicarage has been halted by a coroner, who referred the case to the director of public prosecutions.

HM coroner for Blackpool and Fylde, Alan Wilson, made the intervention - which he described as a "rare occurrence" - following evidence given by a medic.

He was told that Jonathan Percival was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, but would have survived if resuscitation had been provided.

Jonathan's mother, Ruth Percival, 30, gave birth in a downstairs bathroom of the vicarage in Freckleton, Lancashire, while on the toilet, and her father, James, 66, the then vicar of Holy Trinity CE Church, came in to help.

The Rev Percival went on to tell the police the child appeared "sallow and lifeless" and he thought was "obviously deceased" but Blackpool Coroner's Court was told the baby could have survived up to 15 minutes after delivery.

The court heard Jonathan was born between 3.30pm and 4pm on November 25, 2014, but was not seen by a medical professional until about 5.35pm when Mr Percival let paramedics into the family home at Sunnyside Close.

During that period the baby was left alone in the house wrapped in a towel on a sofa as the pair visited their local GP, the inquest was told.

Giving evidence, consultant neonatologist Dr Ruth Gottstein said statistical data showed that when babies were born with the cord around their neck there was an 80% survival rate with resuscitation.

Miss Percival and her father were due to give evidence on Wednesday as part of the scheduled three-day hearing but Mr Wilson told them it would not be "appropriate" to do so after he listened to Dr Gottstein's evidence.

He explained: "In court today she stated clearly that if resuscitation attempts had been made she could see no reason why this child would not have survived.

"In my opinion this evidence strengthens the previous existing suspicion as to whether a criminal offence had been committed.

"I take the view that having listened to Dr Gottstein it is incumbent upon me to adjourn this inquest and refer the matter to the director of public prosecutions (DPP), with a view for the DPP to consider if a criminal prosecution ought to follow and that includes considering the offence of causing or allowing the death of a child."

He added: "This is a rare occurrence and I can assure Ruth Percival and James Percival that it is one I do not take lightly, but given the evidence, this is a matter that ought to be referred to the DPP and I am going to adjourn the inquest without hearing any further evidence."

Both Mr Percival and his daughter were arrested and questioned on suspicion of murder and conspiracy to conceal the birth of a child.

In January this year Lancashire Police said they faced no further action in relation to those allegations but had since been arrested and questioned on suspicion of child neglect.

In April police said that following consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, both father and daughter had been told they would face no charges.