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12-year-old accidentally killed himself playing ‘passing out game’

Karnel Haughton
Karnel Haughton

A mother returned from the shops to find the "lifeless" body of her 12-year-old son after he accidentally strangled himself, an inquest heard.

Karnel Haughton, described as a "happy, smiling and caring" boy, was found at the bottom of the stairs with a ligature loosely placed around his neck.

The youngster, from Castle Vale, Birmingham, died after accidentally choking himself as he tried to experience the sensation of passing out and coming round, an inquest into his death heard.

Recording a verdict of death by misadventure, coroner Emma Brown said: "This is the most tragic of deaths in extremely alarming circumstances."

Birmingham Coroner's Court heard Gemma Haughton "started screaming" and frantically dialled 999 when she discovered her son in the evening of June 1.

The first paramedic arrived at the property in Viscount Close seven minutes later and said there was an "emotional scene".

Stuart Bastock, of West Midlands Ambulance Service, told the inquest: "When I arrived at the address, there was a crowd of people outside, around 40 people."

He found Karnel's mother in "quite an emotional state" and the youngster unresponsive, lying on his back and began basic life support and chest compressions.

Karnel was taken to Birmingham's Heartlands Hospital but was declared dead at 10.37pm, although the court heard he had died while at the property.

The court heard Karnel had been overheard speaking to another child hours before his death, and after being asked "are you going to do it?" Karnel replied "yes", Detective Constable Katrina Sands said.

Karnel's mother, who initially thought her son had run down the stairs with the ligature around his neck and fallen, described him as "happy, smiling, joking around and caring".

But the inquest concluded that Karnel had unintentionally caused his own death, with the coroner adding the boy "did not realise the danger" of attempting to pass out through strangulation.

The court heard that another year seven pupil at the Greenwood Academy, where Karnel was a pupil, had required first aid three months earlier after taking part in the so-called "pass out challenge".

Barry French, the headteacher of the school at the time, said a number of pupils were involved and he called an assembly to warn pupils of the potentially fatal consequences of the activity.

He said that research into the "challenge" had led him to a "myriad versions of this game... this awful thing".

He told the inquest: "Hundreds of thousands of videos (were on YouTube) glamorising this activity.

"There are so many examples of how to engage in choking games or pass out challenges where it's glamorised. It's very hard to control.

"As a school, we can control access to websites such as YouTube but not at home or on mobiles. There's no stopping them from seeing this information."

Miss Brown, area coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, said she would be writing to the Department for Education to consider what guidance could be given about the dangers of the activity.

She said she wanted to raise awareness of symptoms parents should look out for - including marks on the neck, bloodshot eyes and headaches - should they be worried their children were taking part in such activities.

The youngster did not intend to take his life or harm himself, but rather "he wanted to experience what it felt like to faint or become unconscious or be close to it", Miss Brown said.

She added: "Any action intending to become unconscious creates a risk of death and that death can follow very swiftly (with)... close application of any material even for the shortest of periods."

Offering the family her "deepest condolences", she said: "I cannot imagine what you have been through since June and are continuing to go through."