Yew tree berries: Schoolboy collapses and tragically dies after eating poisonous berries on a park stroll with his dad
A schoolboy collapsed and died after eating berries off a yew tree during a walk with his dad. Benn Curran-Nicholls, 14, was rushed to Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital after he collapsed due to ingesting leaves and berries from a yew tree in Fletcher Moss Park, Manchester.
An inquest into the teen's death heard how Benn, who suffered severe autism with intellectual impairment, loved to climb the yew tree during his walks with his father, and daily walks in the local park were part of Benn’s daily routine. Benn’s father was unaware of the risks of the yew tree, and he said Manchester City Council’s neighbourhood manager for environmental health was also unaware that yew trees were poisonous.
Benn returned home from his walk on 18 September 2022 later in the day at around 6pm when he collapsed. He was rushed to hospital but despite the efforts of emergency crews tragically died. A post-mortem concluded Benn suffered "refractory cardiogenic shock".
Coroner Andrew Bridgman has now issued a report about the dangers of eating yew tree berries, and criticised the "illogical" decision to not issue a public health warning following Benn's death. He wrote: "Berries and the like might be attractive to young children who would not recognise the dangers and risks, of even illness let alone death. The poisonous nature of the yew tree is not, on the evidence, well known to the public.
"The decision appears to be focused on comms solely about the yew tree and the risks of identifying an additional means of deliberate ingestion for suicide. No consideration was given to highlighting the risks of eating wild berries and/or leaves in more general terms. In this circumstance, it is my view that the decision not to put out public health messages, either specific to the yew tree or in more general terms, was not properly and fully thought through. It should be re-visited."
The coroner also asked the council to consider putting up warning signs around the park. He wrote: "There is a risk of a death arising in similar circumstances, and informing the public will clearly reduce the risk of those deaths. Perhaps particularly so for a child whose carer would be so informed."
Following the teenager's death, discussions between the council and UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) took place about alerting the public to the dangers of yew trees. An email from UKHSA to the council read: "We agreed at present that there was probably a risk of doing more harm than good from any comms put out, we would be very concerned about unintended consequences from comms messages, e.g. highlighting the risk of harm which may, in turn, provide a source for people to self-harm as a potential route for suicide."