A beloved Doncaster boy said to have a bright future ahead of him in the RAF took his own life after struggling with ‘dark feelings’ and the pressure of impending exams.
15-year-old Finlay Hartshorn was found hanged at his family property at around 7am on September 4 last year by his dad, Paul Hartshorn.
Doncaster Coroners’ Court heard how Mr Hartshorn began CPR while his wife, Caroline, called for an ambulance.
Despite the best efforts of medics and Finlay’s loved ones, the teen was pronounced dead at Doncaster Royal Infirmary a short time later.
Through a statement read out in court, Mr Hartshorn said he had stayed up with Finlay until 3am that morning discussing a recent job interview and watching the television show, Prison Break, together.
“When going to bed around 3 o’clock I told him he could watch one more episode,” said Mr Hartshorn.
Mr Hartshorn said Finlay had struggled to make friends as a pupil at Hayfield Lane Primary and latterly at The Hayfield School, but described how he began to flourish, both socially and academically, after joining the Royal Air Force (RAF) Air Cadets in March 2015.
“Joining the RAF cadets was the making of Finlay, and he began to excel,” said Mr Hartshorn, adding that Finlay quickly rose through the ranks and was made a Cadet sergeant days before his 15th birthday.
The court heard how in May last year, Finlay told his parents he had been self-harming, which prompted them to contact their GP practice, who subsequently referred him to the Doncaster Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).
Then in July, Finlay was taken to Doncaster Royal Infirmary’s Accident and Emergency department, after he described a plan he had to kill himself.
Following the incident, Finlay was assigned to CAMHS practitioner, Jonathan Patrick Donahue, who met with him several times between July and August.
Giving evidence during this morning’s hearing, Mr Donahue said Finlay told him about the issues in his life which gave him cause for concern such as coping with the death of his grandparents and the worries he had about achieving the GCSE grades he would need to be accepted on to a public services BTEC course – something he regarded to be an integral step towards the career he wanted in the RAF.
Mr Donahue said Finlay would tell him about dark feelings he sometimes had.
“I didn’t feel there was a risk of self-harm, but because he had said so much, I felt he needed to be seen on a regular basis,” he added.
When asked by Assistant Coroner, Louise Slater, whether Finlay fully understood what the consequences would have been had he carried out his previous plan to kill himself, Mr Donahue said Finlay had not considered every possible outcome of an attempt on his own life, such as what would have happened had he survived it.
Mr Donahue told the court that Finlay’s mood became lighter during the summer holidays, and that he had enjoyed going away to a Cadet camp.
But when he met with Finlay on August 22, two weeks before he was due to start Year 11, Mr Donahue said there was ‘something about’ the teen’s demeanour that made him worry.
“That’s why I brought him in two days later, and he seemed to have improved,” said Mr Donahue, adding: “I said I would meet him at school on the Wednesday of that school week, because I knew how big of an issue that [returning to school] was for him...that was planned for two days after he died.”
Speculating on what Finlay’s intention may have been when he took his own life, Mr Donahue added:“Part of me thought did he want to be found, survive and say: ‘Please don’t send me back to school’.”
Mrs Hartshorn asked Mr Donahue why he did not inform her or her husband of his concerns about Finlay, or ensure he was offered some support in the week running up to his return to school.
He replied: “I felt he was on a come down from his weeks away, and when we left things there was no signs that anything was wrong. Obviously, with hindsight, I know what you are saying, but I felt there wasn’t anything wrong.”
Ms Slater told the court that while the evidence heard had allowed her to find that Finlay had taken his own life, she could not return a conclusion of suicide because she could not be sure Finlay would have ‘fully appreciated’ the consequences of his actions.
She recorded a narrative conclusion, and told Finlay’s parents they should be ‘very proud’ of their son, who she believed would have had the potential to have a bright and successful future in the RAF.
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