Christ’s Hospital student death an ‘accident’

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THE ‘TRAGIC LOSS’ of a teenager who died on a railway crossing near Barns Green was an accident, an inquest heard yesterday (Wednesday January 11).

Matthew Leonard, 18, a sixth form boarder at Christ’s Hospital School and captain of its cross-country running team, was hit by a train while he was out for his morning run on February 14 2011.

The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death.

An inquest at Horsham courts yesterday heard that he had a history of seizures, and had collapsed at school on at least three occasions.

He had an iPod with him at the time of his death on the pedestrian-only crossing, the hearing was told.

His mother Jane Leonard, from Bognor, told the inquest that his housemaster at Christ’s Hospital, the famous ‘Bluecoat’ independent school near Horsham, had told her that he had suffered a ‘couple of fainting episodes’.

She recalled times, starting when he was about 16, when he went ‘totally blank’ or ‘vacant’.

She said he would always snap out of it within a few seconds of her noticing there was something wrong.

Afterwards, he would be disorientated and would not remember what had happened.

“Matthew was convinced that he had a problem, although he didn’t live long enough to find out what it was,” she said.

Mrs Leonard said her son had wanted to study at Christ’s Hospital since he was 14.

“He always seemed happy to be there,” she said.

“I’m sure he did find it difficult initially, because he wasn’t used to socialising and of course he was a new deputy grecian and some of the other deputy grecians had been there five years already.”

Early in January 2011 he was rejected for a place at Cambridge University but, although he was disappointed, Mrs Leonard said he seemed to get over it and he went on to do well in his exams later that month.

This was confirmed by both his housemaster and a friend - whose statement was read out in court.

The inquest heard that Mr Leonard was known to have self-harmed several times, and would say he did this because it seemed to relieve the stress when he was finding maths difficult. He had always denied having any suicidal thoughts.

Dr Mohamed Athaullah, a GP at Horsham’s Park Surgery, which provides medical services at Christ’s Hospital health centre, confirmed that Mr Leonard had had a problem with self-harming, and had suffered unexplained collapses.

However, he said Mr Leonard had been reluctant to have counselling for depression, or to acknowledge that his fainting spells might need to be investigated.

As a legal adult, Dr Athaullah added, Mr Leonard had the right to refuse treatment.

Some teachers and medical staff had suggested that he might have had Asperger’s Syndrome, but he was never assessed for the condition, the inquest heard.

But the coroner concluded suicide was not the cause of death due to a number of factors including evidence from the housemaster and a friend which explained how happy Mr Leonard was in the lead up to the incident.

The coroner said he had to ‘balance the probabilities’ that the accidental death was caused by either a ‘distraction’ due to the use of an iPod, or a momentary ‘loss of consciousness’.

Addressing Mrs Leonard, he added: “I extend my sincere condolences with the loss of your of your son which was a tragic loss in really unexpected circumstances.”