Family's anguish after four-year-old dies in stair gate accident

Draco Chapman, pictured in March 2018

Draco Chapman, pictured in March 2018 - Credit: David Chapman

The father of a "mischievous" four-year-old boy who died after getting trapped between two stair gates has said his family is "destroyed".

Draco Chapman, from Osbert Close in Lakenham, Norwich, died on April 23, 2019, at Quidenham children's hospice, after suffering "irreversible and catastrophic brain injuries" following an accident in his home at around 4.30pm on April 2, 2019.

An inquest held at Norfolk Coroner's Court on January 25, 2022, heard the incident happened while his mother, Rachel Chapman, who had five children at the time, was out at a parents' evening.

Draco's teenage brother was in charge of looking after the younger children and called 999 after the four-year-old was discovered trapped between two stair gates put on top of each other between the living room and hallway.

The stair gate put up by Rachel Chapman, Draco Chapman's mother

The stair gate put up by Rachel Chapman, Draco Chapman's mother - Credit: David Chapman

Assistant coroner, Johanna Thompson, recorded a conclusion of accidental death and reported the medical cause of death as catastrophic brain injury due to asphyxiation by hanging.

David Chapman, from Hall Road in Norwich

David Chapman, from Hall Road in Norwich - Credit: Sophie Wyllie

Speaking after the inquest, David Chapman, who separated from Mrs Chapman around 2006 but maintained contact with his children, said: "Draco was a very mischievous little boy. The whole family loved him dearly.

"It is a terrible loss. I miss him every day.

"Draco was one of those little boys who loved playing with trucks, cars and trains. He loved anything to do with engineering.

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"For a little boy with limitations he was growing into himself when this happened."

Draco, who was born prematurely, was diagnosed with Noonan syndrome at seven months old which caused developmental delay and the youngster to get tired.

"My family has been destroyed. It has gone. It is so hard," Mr Chapman added.

Draco Chapman, aged around one

Draco Chapman, aged around one - Credit: David Chapman

In a written statement read out in the inquest, the 64-year-old from Hall Road said Mrs Chapman used to go out and leave the older children to look after the younger siblings.

A statement read out on behalf of Mrs Chapman, who was not at the inquest, said she put up the stair gate above the bottom stair gate because Draco used to frequently climb over the lower barrier.

She wanted to keep stair gates up as she did not feel her children, who were as young as two, were safe when on the stairs.

The second gate was put up on the day of the accident and she added she spoke to her ex-partner about it but he did not raise an issue, according to her evidence.

She previously had a gate at the top of the stairs but removed that as her children would climb over it.

She added she had seen posts online about stair gates being put on top of each other.

Mrs Chapman, who was 20-weeks pregnant at the time of the accident, was described as someone who "clearly loved her children" by teacher Helen Leverage from Tuckswood Academy and Nursery where Draco attended.

Mrs Leverage said: "Mum was clearly very busy managing the challenges of getting all her children to different places they needed to be. She was overwhelmed."

After the accident her children, including her son born in late 2019, were taken from her and put into the care of social services.

Mrs Chapman told the teacher that she "would give everything to turn back time and desperately wanted her children back", according to the witness statement.

The mother, who had family in Australia and few friends in Norwich, admitted to struggling to look after her house described as dirty and messy by police officers who attended the accident.

Mrs Leverage described the youngster Draco as someone who was "popular, confident, determined and happy" and health visitors worked closely with the family.

Health visitor Helen Thompson said she offered safety advice to Mrs Chapman but she did not see the two stair gates in place.

A Norfolk Safeguarding Children's Partnership serious case review carried out after the death made a recommendation that a safety warning should be put on stair gates.