Mother recalls Yorkshire seaside rock fall horror that killed daughter

PIC: Tony Bartholomew
PIC: Tony Bartholomew

The mother of a nine-year-old girl who was killed when she was caught in a rock fall during a trip to a popular Yorkshire seaside village has said she would swap places with her daughter “in a heartbeat”, an inquest has heard.

Harriet Forster was visiting her aunt’s cottage in Staithes, North Yorkshire, on the day that she passed away, Scarborough Town Hall heard on Wednesday.

Harriet Forster.

Harriet Forster.

The inquest was told how the girl, from Oxford, was struck by a “boulder” in Staithes, moments after her mother had cried “big rock, big rock” at her.

An off-duty police officer and an off-duty paramedic both rushed to her aid, but the youngster was declared dead after an air ambulance crew arrived a short while later.

Coroner Michael Oakley said Harriet’s mother, Holly Forster, was unable to attend the day-long inquest due to still being “haunted day and night” by the horror of the girl’s death on August 8.

In a statement read to the court, she said: “The sights and sounds of that day are never far from my mind.

“Being without Harriet, who was the apple of my eye and the light of my life, causes me pain that I suspect I will never recover from.

“I would swap places with her in a heartbeat.”

After saying around 500 people attended the girl’s funeral, Mrs Forster added: “I would like to say on record that Harriet could not have been more loved and cherished by all who knew her.”

In her statement, Mrs Forster told how she and her daughter had gone “rock pebbling” in order to test out a new children’s GoPro camera in the hours leading up to the incident.

She added that they were around 10ft away from the edge of the cliff when the “scattering noise of pebbles” could be heard, adding: “I looked up at the cliff and saw different size stones falling, and one larger bit of rock about 2ft by a bit less than 2ft.”

Mrs Forster told how she and Harriet, who was standing closer to the sea than her, were both hit by rocks as they attempted to run away.

The mother added that, once the rock fall had ended, she looked up to see her daughter lying in the cleft of some rock a short distance away, with “blue lips” and a “white tongue”.

Her statement said she had thought: “Don’t be dead”, after realising that Harriet was not breathing.

Richard Isaac, an off-duty police officer with West Yorkshire Police, told the inquest how he had performed CPR on the girl, before carrying her away from the rock face on a child’s surfboard to continue resuscitation.

Despite an air ambulance crew arriving a short while later, Harriet was declared dead after suffering injuries to her head, chest and abdomen, the coroner heard.

The inquest was told how the stretch of seaside near where the girl passed away has one warning sign, which reads: “Beware, dangerous cliff”.

John Woodhead, the north area engineer for Scarborough Borough Council, added that, in the space of two years, there had been 55,000 rock falls near the spot where Harriet was struck.

Making a verdict of accidental death, Mr Oakley described the case as “one of the most tragic incidents” he has dealt with during his 40 years as a coroner.

Adding that the death resulted from the girl being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, he recommended that further, clearer signage be installed, and suggested that a permanent barrier should be put up to prevent tourists going near the spot where Harriet died.