Northamptonshire teenager died after contracting animal-borne infection, inquest told

A young volunteer died from a disease spread by animals, an inquest has heard, but doctors don't know the source of the infection.

Friday, 27th January 2017, 9:31 am
Updated Friday, 27th January 2017, 11:28 am
The inquest was held at County Hall
The inquest was held at County Hall

An inquest into the death of Craig Barratt, aged 16, of Higham Ferrers, was held in Northampton yesterday (Thursday).

Craig was a volunteer at NANNA (Northamptonshire Animals Needing Nurturing and Adoption) in Irthlingborough and was studying for a diploma in animal welfare at Moulton College at the time of his death on November 15, 2015.

But the inquest heard he could have contracted the disease that killed him anywhere.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Craig’s foster father Ian Wermerling told the inquest: “Craig was a volunteer at NANNA, which was a big part of his life and sometimes we had to stop him going so he could do other things.”

But he took Craig to see Dr Oluyemisi Onimole at Higham Ferrers Surgery after feeling unwell for several days, including ‘crawling on all fours’ in pain on November 12.

He was told it was probably a viral infection and to come back if it hadn’t cleared up in a few days.

But Craig continued to feel unwell, including coughing up blood.

His foster parents became so concerned that they were checking up on him every half-an-hour.

At about 8.30pm on Sunday, November 15, Mr Wermerling checked on Craig in his bedroom, where he found him with fixed eyes and he was not breathing.

He carried out CPR for 15 minutes, but Craig died that evening.

Mr Wermerling told the court: “Dawn and I were devastated after Craig’s death.”

A statement by Craig’s foster mum Dawn Wermerling read out by Anne Pember said Craig’s work experience at NANNA had been organised through Ferrers School and he went on to volunteer there afterwards.

Dawn’s statement said Craig was very committed to NANNA, and added: “He was made to feel very welcome and loved the animals.”

She said they had no concerns over his general health, but after being at NANNA in early November, he complained of feeling unwell, including pains in his calf.

The inquest heard a statement from Adam Gubrecht, a waste management officer from East Northants Council, who had visited NANNA on several occasions, including a visit in June 2015 after a complaint.

Following one visit, he said: “I advised Adam French that the rat problem has escalated since my last visit.”

Adam French, senior environmental health officer at East Northants Council, visited NANNA on November 19, 2015, and said: “There were signs of clear rat activity.”

He said he had ‘serious concerns’ about poor hygiene facilities at the site, including no hot running water.

A court order was granted, imposing conditions on NANNA such as robust pest control and public access to the site was restricted.

As efforts were made to address the concerns, Mr French decided the order did not need to be extended and it was lifted in December.

Further improvements have since been made, and Mr French said a conversation with the pest control contractor in April 2016 revealed that ‘the rat problem was pretty much under control.’

Petrina Alderman, who started NANNA with her husband and daughter Carla in 2004, told the inquest about the checks they do with any students or volunteers who go there.

She said everyone is given a card carrying information about what to do if they start feeling unwell after being on-site, including details about leptospirosis.

Petrina said: “All of us at NANNA were devastated at the news of his death and we have planted a tree in his memory.”

She said Craig had been given ‘hundreds of cards’ reminding him of what to do if he felt unwell after being there.

Dr Onimole was called as a witness and she said she saw Craig on November 12 when he was complaining of pain in his calves after being on the farm the day before and he said he thought he had ‘got it from another person who had a viral infection.’

But Dr Onimole said: “I thought it was muscular down to what he had been doing on the farm.

“I advised him to come back if it didn’t change.”

During questioning, Dr Onimole said Craig had ‘general flu-like symptoms’ and had not given her the card given out by NANNA which they recommend is given to a doctor if they feel unwell.

When asked about leptospirosis, she said: “I didn’t suspect it at all.”

The inquest also heard from Craig Jackson from Moulton College and Paula Bright of Prospects, which arranged Craig’s work experience at NANNA.

She told the inquest: “The placement was suitable.”

A statement from Professor Kevin West, consultant histopathologist at Leicester Royal Infirmary, read out by the coroner said Craig worked with animals and it was likely he would have been exposed to leptospira, the strain of bacteria that causes leptospirosis.

Dr Colin Fink, medical director of Micropathology Ltd and an honorary senior lecturer at the University of Warwick, was called as a witness and said leptospira is carried by most small animals, some larger animals and is all over the world.

When asked if Craig could have contracted it anywhere, Dr Fink said yes.

He also said: “Gloves and hand-washing do make a difference, but there’s no absolute safety.”

In recording a narrative verdict, coroner Anne Pember said: “Craig James Barratt was a 16-year-old young man who worked with animals at NANNA and at Moulton College.

"Sadly he developed leptospirosis which led to his untimely death on the 15th of November 2015.”