A CORONER has criticised ‘repugnant’ messages which were posted on social media hours after a 16-year-old youth hanged himself.
Senior coroner for Cornwall Andrew Cox said inquiries will never get to the bottom of mobile phone communications that night because they were on Snapchat and could not be retrieved by police because they are deleted automatically after a few seconds.
Ethan’s father Robert Butler said: “There were physical altercations between these groups and Ethan was assaulted.
“Knives were being carried but it was not a case where someone had been stabbed.”
But the gang tensions caused Ethan stress and on the evening of his death in February 2021 he had been happy after returning from work and had drunk a couple of ciders at his mother’s home in Launceston.
She would not let him have any more alcohol because of work the next day and Ethan ‘did not take kindly to that’ and stormed off to his bedroom – but this minor argument was not unusual.
But later that evening mum Sarah found him hanged from his bedroom door with an electrical extension cable around his neck.
The next day his family received ‘vile messages’ on social media.
Mr Cox said the messages were ‘vile and repugnant’, adding: “The people who sent them should be ashamed of themselves. No family should have to put up with abuse like that, it was out of order.”
Mr Butler told the inquest that on that evening there was some communication between Ethan and the gang he was in a feud with, and local CCTV showed an individual from the rival gang in the street outside his estranged wife’s home where Ethan lived.
He said his son was happy and had overcome previous alcohol and drug taking issues and had passed an entrance exam to join the Royal Navy.
He said he was ‘good, honest, kind and sensitive’ who could be ‘a bit gobby’ but had a sense of right and wrong and fairness.
Ethan’s mother Sarah said after she refused to let him have more alcohol Ethan later came downstairs and was ‘really angry’ and swearing – and she too believes something happened on his phone.
She said: “I honestly do not know what happened in that period, something to do with his phone is where the answer lies.”
The coroner said phone analysis was ‘incredibly frustrating and limiting’ because the police could not recover the Snapchat messages saying: “Once they’ve gone, they’ve gone.”
Mr Cox recorded a suicide conclusion saying: “There was a lot going on but to be honest we will not get to the bottom of what was happening at the time.
“Something has happened that evening upstairs that has caused a downward turn in his mood. I am deeply sorry that has happened.”