Tragic four-year-old was knocked down by her own mother, inquest hears

The scene of the tragic accident in Amos Ayre Place.
The scene of the tragic accident in Amos Ayre Place.

A four-year-old girl died of an "unsurviveable" head injury when she was knocked down by a pick-up truck driven by her mother, who was using her mobile phone.

Ava Henderson and her brother Lewis, eight, were playing in a compound off Amos Ayre Place in Simonside, South Shields, on Friday, May 27, last year as her family prepared to spend the bank holiday weekend in a caravan in the Tyne Valley.

But as the youngster tried to restrain the family's bulldog to stop it getting in the path of the black L200 Mitzubishi pick-up truck, she was struck by the front of the vehicle and suffered serious injuries.

The inquest into Ava's death, held this morning at Newcastle Civic Centre, heard CCTV showed her mother Laura Henderson has narrowly missed reversing into her before moving forward and knocking her down, before she went under the front driver's side wheel.

Police investigators said the footage showed Laura had a phone wedged between her ear and shoulder as she prepared to hook up the caravan and manoeuvred the vehicle.

Witnesses told police they rushed to help after hearing "hysterical screaming", with one saying she heard Laura cry "My baby, my baby, she's gone, she's gone" as she carried her towards the Tesco supermarket.

People tried to give Ava first aid and CPR before the arrival of paramedics and police, but she was pronounced dead at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary.

Officers said they had decided not to interview Lewis or another youngster who saw the aftermath of the tragedy because they were so shocked.

Police investigators said CCTV footage showed Laura, who had her baby daughter Olivia in the truck at the time, had a phone wedged between her ear and shoulder as she prepared to hook up the caravan and manoeuvred the large vehicle.

Detective Sergeant Grant Falconer, of Northumbria Police confirmed no one is facing court action over the incident, which happened at around 7pm.

Describing an interview with Ava's mum, he said she had accepted a "duty of care" for the children as they played in the yard, which belongs to their father, her partner Lee Manson, a landscape gardener.

He said: "She said she was responsible for the children, accepts in response to inquiries she was using a mobile phone while driving, and accepts it is down to her that Ava was killed, that was gleaned from her interview."

He said Ava had been trying to do the responsible thing by moving the dog out of the way of the vehicle.

Laura had said she had been "stressed" by linking the Mitsubishi up with the caravan.

Pc Gary Luther of the force's collision investigation unit attended the scene after the accident.

His inquiries found no fault with the vehicle or the road surface, but said it might have previously had reversing cameras and Laura's small stature could have meant her view was not clear.

He had established from the CCTV Laura could be seen texting, dialling or speaking on the phone in the time leading up to the collision, and had it wedged between her right shoulder and ear when she was moving the Mitsubishi.

He said: "When she pulled forward for the last time, there was no chance whatsoever that she would have seen Ava."

Laura's father Anthony Henderson questioned whether she had been on the phone during the incident, as he suggested she might have forgotten it was between her ear and shoulder.

He explained how the plan had been for Lee to take the caravan to its location for the weekend ahead of that night, and Laura and the children were not meant to be at the yard at all.

Instead, Laura went to the yard to prepare the tourer, attach it and pull it away.

He said: "I was waiting for them to arrive at the site when I got the phone call and it was total chaos."

Pathologist Dr Mark Egan said an "unsurviveable" skull fracture was the cause of her death, though she also suffered a series of other injuries.

Coroner Karen Dilks recorded a conclusion of accidental death and offered her condolences to the family.

She said: "Laura said in interview she was stressed and it had been a last-minute arrangement for mum to collect the caravan.

"While mum was there doing all that, Ava and her brother were playing in the compound, and mum was using her mobile phone from time to time.

"She was manoeuvring the vehicle with her mobile phone between her ear, neck and her shoulder.

"Whether it was being used at that time or otherwise, and her own stature hindered her view, it has resulted in this horrendous tragedy."