Teacher worried over grades set himself on fire

David Charlesworth set himself alight in the car park of Rossett School in Harrogate
David Charlesworth set himself alight in the car park of Rossett School in Harrogate
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A HIGH-achieving Harrogate school teacher set himself on fire because he was worried about his pupils’ exams results, an inquest heard yesterday,

A hearing into the death of David Charlesworth, 43, was told the science teacher was never seen by therapists despite four reminders from his GP before he set himself alight in the car park of Rossett School in the early hours of May 11, last year.

Mr Charlesworth, 43, who the inquest heard seemed to become more stressed around exam time, managed to walk home, ring an ambulance and say: “I’ve set myself on fire”, before he was rushed to hospital where doctors treated him for 79 per cent burns. He died the next day.

Rossett School headteacher Patricia Hunter told the hearing that Mr Charlesworth was “a fantastic teacher”. “He had very high standards,” she said. “He never wanted to let anyone down. I think some of that was self-imposed anxiety.”

When asked if she had drawn conclusions from the time of year Mr Charlesworth’s stress had escalated, Mrs Hunter said: “The times do correlate with A-level module examinations, in January and April. A stress assessment done as part of our support for Dave found that there were peaks of workload. It could be that the stress was related to something specific.

“Teaching is a stressful job. It’s particularly hard for teachers where their subject has coursework, as science does. We tried to lessen the stress for him by taking away duties. The head of department took on coursework marking.”

The court heard about a note Mr Charlesworth had written, which said he was “massively disappointed” in the coursework marks for his groups that year.

His wife, Jennifer, also a science teacher, said he had taken coursework on holiday to mark.

“He was vulnerable. He told me that he felt very responsible for it all. He felt under pressure to make sure the children got the grades and that the pressure was only his,” she said.

Mrs Charlesworth, 36, said he had been an “optimistic and positive person” before his “steady decline”. She described her husband – father to Adam, four, and Zoe, five – as being “up and down” in the months before his suicide.

Dr Allan Gilbert, a counsellor who saw Mr Charlesworth in 2009 and 2010, told the court: “Dave told me he was stressed at school. It was stress that he created himself. He had very high standards. It was his own perception that he wasn’t as good as he had been, that he couldn’t cope. We discussed the possibility that teaching wasn’t for him, but he felt nervous about this because he had a young family to support.”

The inquest heard Mr Charlesworth had been treated for work-related stress by his GP, Dr Alan Cunningham, who said he may have benefited from cognitive behavioural therapy in April, after determining he had “suicidal indications”. But the inquest was told that despite chasing up the appointment four times, he was never seen by therapists.

Alan Coates, a health manager for North Yorkshire and York PCT, told the court cognitive behavioural therapy was a “slow process” and provided a long-term benefit.

Asked by Deputy North Yorkshire Coroner Geoff Fell why there was a delay, he said: “This is not a service for urgent cases. It is not a quick solution. It takes up to 20 sessions to see a difference.”

Recording a verdict of suicide, Mr Fell said: “In my opinion the local health trust fell far below what is expected, what the GP expected and what Dave expected. I will be writing to the chief executive expressing my serious concerns about the way this was handled.”

Speaking after the hearing, Mrs Charlesworth said: “Suicide is not a crime or a sign of selfishness. My husband was ill. He has left us bereft. We as a family miss him dearly and always will.”