Death of Harriet Forster, 9, killed in Whitby rock fall was 'accidental'

Harriet Forster, 9 who died after falling from a cliff in August
Harriet Forster, 9 who died after falling from a cliff in August

A coroner called for action to help prevent future cliff fall tragedies on the Yorkshire Coast after telling an inquest that the death of a nine-year-old girl on holiday with her family was one of the most tragic in his 40-year career.

A coroner called for action to help prevent future cliff fall tragedies on the Yorkshire Coast after telling an inquest that the death of a nine-year-old girl on holiday with her family was one of the most tragic in his 40-year career.

Michael Oakley, the North Yorkshire East Coroner, read a letter from the mother of Harriet Forster, in which she said she wished she could have changed places with her daughter, adding she was constantly haunted by the sounds and sights of the tragedy.

It happened at the tourist beauty spot of Staithes, near Whitby, last August when the little girl was hit by a big boulder.

He said he was now writing to Scarborough Borough Council to improve warning signage at the cliffs – among the highest in Britain – and to explore the possibility of providing permanent barriers and extend the seawall to keep people away from the foot of the cliffs, which in places are over 200 ft high.

He recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Mrs Holly Forster said Harriet was ”the apple of my eye and the light of my life” and that she would never recover from the tragedy. Mr Oakley said Mrs Forster had been unable to travel from the family home in Oxfordshire because she was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

But she was disappointed not to attend the hearing to “thank the kind and courageous people” who tried to save Harriet’s life. Teams of coastguards, police, an air ambulance, and lifeboat crews raced to the scene to help.

John Woodhead, senior engineer at Scarborough Council, said he had worked in the cliff area for 30 years. The cliffs were owned by the National Trust but while warning notices were in place telling people to beware of the cliffs, there was nothing to indicate the risk of falling cliffs.

Questioned by the Coroner, Mr Woodhead said he did not believe it was practicable to create a barricade around the base of the cliffs because the sea went right up to the base of the cliffs.

Over the years, said Mr Woodhead, work had been carried out at Staithes including providing rock armour. There had been some many reported rock falls on a 200 metre stretch of the cliffs over the years.

The inquest heard that within minutes of Harriet being hit by the boulder, an off duty police officer and a paramedic officer, who were on holiday with their families in the village, administered revival attempts to save her.

In her statement, Mrs Forster said Harriet had only minutes before the accident bought a beach bucket, spade and equipment and was standing on a rock near pools where children had been playing. She said she had heard the noise of “scattering pebbles” down the cliff and a second later a 2ft rock had crashed down. “I could see the sky between the rock (and the cliff)."

Mrs Forster said she had been injured on the head and arm by falling debris from the cliffs.

The National Trust said in a statement that a large sign warned of the dangerous state of the cliff and that the organisation would “continue to monitor visitor safety” on the cliffs which form part of The Cleveland Way.