Tragic in-care teenager fell to death from South Shields cliffs, inquest hears

Chirelle Calder fell from the cliffs at Marsden in August 2016.
Chirelle Calder fell from the cliffs at Marsden in August 2016.

A “very troubled” teenager who was in care fell to her death from cliffs in South Shields, an inquest has heard.

Chirelle Calder, 17, suffered unsurvivable injuries after falling from the cliffs at Marsden in August 2016.

Chirelle Calder was just 17 when she died in South Shields.

Chirelle Calder was just 17 when she died in South Shields.

An inquest into her death today heard that Chirelle had a history of self harming, although authorities felt she had turned a corner before the tragic day she died.

A post-mortem revealed that ketamine and a low level of alcohol was found in Chirelle’s system, coroner Karen Dilks was told.

The hearing heard that Chirelle was being cared for at Whiteleas Way Children’s Home, having been based at a number of care homes since becoming the subject of a full care order when she was 13.

The night before her death, she had been on a visit to a flat which was part of a supported housing scheme as the authorities begun the process of transitioning her from children’s care to adult care.

I was probably less worried about her at that stage than I had been at any stage in the previous three years

Professor Joe McDonald

Patricia Ewen, senior care practitioner for the Looked After Children Team at South Tyneside Council, told the inquest: “In the latter part of her life, I saw quite significant change and she had settled.

“We believed at that point that she was doing very well and began to work with her in preparing her for independence and building her confidence.

“She had been doing exceptionally well at Whiteleas Way.

“She was looking forward to the transition and having a bit more freedom of choice.”

Professor Joe McDonald, who was Chirelle’s consultant psychiatrist, added: “Chirelle was a very, very troubled young woman when I first met her four years ago.

“The team I was running at the time would deal with about 500 cases of self harm a year.

“Chirelle immediately went to the top of my worry list of all those young people.”

However, Professor McDonald had noticed a change in Chirelle in the months before her death, and proposed to the inquest that the presence of ketamine in her system may have contributed to it.

He added: “I have seen it before where people who don’t want to kill themselves but are used to making dramatic gestures are overtaken by the Dutch courage provided by a drug like ketamine.

“That might have been part of what was different on that occasion.

“The last time I saw her, she dropped off my worry list.

“She had been top of the pops for years, but I really wasn’t very worried about her at that stage.

“She was planning a sponsored walk she was organising and talking about working in the care sector.

“It was a complete shock when I heard of her death.

“I was probably less worried about her at that stage than I had been at any stage in the previous three years.

“I just wonder whether anything she had ingested might have affected her co-ordination or judgement at that time.”

Pathologist Dr Mark Egan told the inquest at Newcastle Civic Centre that Chirelle had been reported missing on the evening of August 13, 2016, and the teenager contacted police to say she was on the cliff top.

He went on to say that Chirelle had a “large number” of scars consisting with self harm, and catastrophic injuries suggesting a fall from a height.

Dr Egan, who carried out the post-mortem, added: “Samples showed a low level of alcohol, and a level of ketamine which could have occured as a result of medical intervention, although it is conceivable that it could have been from recreational use.”

Mark Cryer, deputy manager at Whiteleas Way Children’s Home, told the inquest that Chirelle had been late returning home the night before her death.

She arrived back at 5.30am – several hours after the care home had reported her missing to police.

Mr Cryer added that, in a text message to the home earlier that night, Chirelle had admitted she had “taken some whizz”.

He also said that she appeared intoxicated when she did return to the home in the morning.

The inquest continues.