Coroner’s verdict that tragic Somali refugee Shukri Abdi, 12, drowned by accident was ‘flawed’, say family

A coroner’s conclusion that the drowning of a 12-year-old Somali refugee was accidental was ‘flawed’ as it failed to take into account allegations that the girl had been bullied, a court was told. Shukri Abdi, 12, died after getting into difficulties in the river in Bury during a heatwave in June 2019.

Following an inquest held in 2020, Coroner Joanne Kearsley ruled that on the ‘balance of probabilities’ Shukri died as a result of an accidental death. Today her family of her went to the High Court in Manchester to challenge her conclusion of her.

The family’s lawyer argued the coroner only allowed evidence from the day of the tragedy. They say she ruled out evidence about alleged bullying Shukri had suffered previously by the children who were with her when she went into the water.

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At the time of her death Shukri was with four other children, who for legal reasons can only be referred to as Child One, Two, Three and Four. The 2020 inquest heard how Child One encouraged Shukri to go into the water despite knowing she couldn’t swim.

Child One told Shukri she would look after her and would teach her to swim. Coroner Joanne Kearsley ruled that meant Child One had a duty of care to Shukri and she breached that duty because she should have been able to foresee the risk of drowning.

But that breach, Ms Kearsley said, wasn’t serious enough to warrant a conclusion of gross negligence manslaughter. Ms Kearsley said Child one was ‘naive and foolish’ and her ‘ill considered’ attempt to teach Shukri to swim went ‘badly wrong’.

Ms Kearsley added: “At its highest this was a serious error of judgement. I am certain the ramifications will be felt by many for a long time.”

Ms Kearsley said that on the ‘balance of probabilities’ Shukri died as a result of an accidental death. But, Shukri’s family are seeking a judicial review to consider quashing the verdict and ordering a fresh inquest.

Shukri Abdi died after getting into difficulties in the River Irwell in Bury in June 2019

Representing Shukri’s family, Stephen Simblet QC told a senior High Court judge sitting at Manchester Civil Justice Center today (Friday) his clients’ case centered on the ‘pre-incident history’ including information given to the police from teachers and other children which suggested there was ‘more to this than simply Shukkri getting into difficulty in the water and drowning’.

He criticized the coroner’s ‘positive finding’ at the inquest that there was ‘no malice involved’, namely that Child One had led Shukri into deeper water to teach her to swim. Mr Simblet said Ms Kearsley had ‘closed down’ avenues of inquiry.

He said: “It could be said Child One is the most important witness. Child One is the last person to have anything to do with Shukri and Child One is one of the witnesses about whom various people suggest a degree of hostility and bullying behavior towards Shukri.”

The coroner had hoped Child One would give evidence but she did not, although her recorded interview was played at the inquest. Mr Simblet said some accounts given by the children had suggested ‘some sort of hostility or intention to distress Shukri in some way’. He said the coroner had ruled out evidence which suggested Child Two had previously pushed Shukri into a road in front of traffic.

Senior north Manchester coroner Joanne Kearsley

I have described the coroner’s inquest as ‘flawed’.

The QC went on: “The coroner has disabled herself from considering any material about the motivation of Child One, Child Two, Three and Four towards Shukri by only looking at what happened on the afternoon of the incident, essentially ignoring evidence from others which suggest an intention either to plan or to frighten Shukri, or that what actually had gone on, whether planned or not, was a consequence of ill-intention towards her at least to the extent of frightening her.”

Alison Hewitt, representing Child One, said there had been ‘no evidence what-so-ever’ Child One had bullied Shukri or had planned to do something. She dismissed these claims as ‘rumour’.

Sophie Cartwright QC, representing Senior North Manchester Coroner Ms Kearsley, said her client had not ‘closed her mind’ to allegations of bullying. She insisted it was covered in the evidence presented to the inquest of the four children.

And, she said the coroner had investigated suggestions that the incident had been planned. Rejecting a claim that more children should have been called to give evidence, Ms Cartwright said the coroner had invited submissions at the inquest about which witnesses should be called and pointed out Ms Kearsley called more witnesses than were requested by the family.

The QC said her client had not been seeking to limit the scope of the inquiry, had been ‘keeping an open mind’ and ‘kept under review’ the actions of Child One. Mr Justice Fordham said he reserved judgment and will publish his decision at a later date whether the case can go to a full judicial review.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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