Shropshire Star

'Lovely, compassionate' boy was found dead at care home after learning of grandmother's death

A "lovely, funny, compassionate" boy was found dead at a care home the day after learning of his grandmother's death.

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James Thomas

Talented guitarist James William Llewellyn Thomas, aged 15, was found in his bedroom at Old School House - a residential home for boys with behavioural and mental health difficulties run by Keys Group in Hanwood, near Shrewsbury.

The Mary Webb School pupil, who was from Bridgnorth, was found on September 28 last year. He had spent the previous day in Caernarfon with family after learning of his grandmother's passing.

James, who was adopted by Sharon Thomas when he was aged two, also has a brother and sister, and had been staying at the care home for around three years.

An inquest into his death at Shirehall heard there were delays initially in getting permission for James to leave the care home and miss school to spend the day with his family, and that he may have blamed himself for that and felt upset.

Mrs Thomas said James had a "difficult" afternoon, but gave her and his sister a hug and told them he loved them "as he always did", before going back to the care home.

Workers from the home who looked after James said he seemed "happy" when he arrived back there, saying how he had enjoyed time with his family and laughed about being pulled over by his uncle's dog.

But the next morning, one of the staff members, Jennifer Houghton, found him unresponsive in his bedroom. She performed CPR and an ambulance was called, but nothing could be done to save him and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

There were two main points of contention which were discussed at the inquest. The first was about whether James should have been considered as someone at risk of self-harm.

Mrs Thomas considered previous episodes of mental difficulty in which James sustained injuries, including a fractured hand, demonstrated he may have been a risk to himself.

She also said he had mentioned wanting to kill himself before in an assessment.

However, the care home workers described feeling "shocked and heartbroken" that James was found dead, and social workers said he was not considered a self-harm or suicide risk. A Shropshire Council independent review officer concluded that his death could not have been foreseen.

James Thomas

Another issue involved phone records. Mrs Thomas said she has proof that James had made 36 calls to his girlfriend in quick succession and that his ADHD "must have been through the roof".

However, care workers at Old School House said James "definitely 100 per cent" handed his phone over before he went to bed - before the time the calls are said to have been made. Police records do not show the calls on record, however John Ellery, senior coroner for Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, said the issue "troubles me".

"Both can't be true," he said, insisting he needs a definitive answer on the issue to determine James' level of intent before reaching his own conclusion.

Mr Ellery closed the inquest to make further enquiries. A conclusion is expected in the next couple of weeks.

The care and social workers who met James described him as "lovely, humorous, compassionate and articulate".

After the hearing, Mrs Thomas said: "He was a lovely lad. He was very funny. He loved playing his guitar and he was self-taught. He had been playing for about three or four years and had seven guitars."

The inquest was told how James once won an award for his musical talent at The Hive in Shrewsbury, and since his death a new music prize - the James Thomas Music Award - has been created at Mary Webb School in his memory. This year's winner received an arrow-shaped guitar.

A colourful mural was painted on the outside of James' old form room at Mary Webb School

Mrs Thomas added that James used to jam with his music teacher Mr Seager at lunchtime on some school days. Mr Seager wrote a song about James, which she described as "beautiful".

A colourful mural was painted on the outside of James' old form room at Mary Webb School

A mural in James' memory has also been painted onto the wall of his form room at Mary Webb School. Mrs Thomas said the school team had been "amazing" since he died.

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