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High Court dismisses bid to overturn accidental verdict over schoolgirl drowning

27th May 2022
High Court dismisses bid to overturn accidental verdict over schoolgirl drowning

Nadine Osman

A petition for a judicial review into a coroner’s ruling that the drowning of a 12-year-old Somali refugee was accidental has been dismissed by a High Court on May 4.

Shukri Yahye-Abdi drowned in the river in Bury during a heat wave on June 27, 2019.

Following an inquest held in 2020, Coroner Joanne Kearsley ruled that on the ‘balance of probabilities’ Shukri died as a result of accidental death. Last month, her family went to the High Court in Manchester to challenge her verdict, claiming it was a flawed verdict.

Now a senior High Court judge has dismissed the application for judicial review, concluding: “I have been unable to find any arguable ground for judicial review having any realistic prospect of success.”
The Abdi family argued the coroner only allowed evidence from the day of the tragedy. They said she ruled out evidence about alleged bullying Shukri had suffered previously by the children who were with her when she went into the water.

At the time of her death, Shukri was with four other children, who, for legal reasons, can only be referred to as ‘Child One, Two, Three and Four.’ The 2020 inquest heard how Child One encouraged Shukri to go into the water despite knowing she couldn’t swim.

Child One told Shukri she would look after her and would teach her to swim. Coroner Joanne Kearsley ruled that meant ‘Child One’ had a duty of care to Shukri and breached that duty because she should have been able to foresee the risk of drowning.

But that breach, Kearsley said, wasn’t serious enough to warrant a conclusion of gross negligence manslaughter.

Kearsley said: “Child One was naïve, she was foolish, she thought she could teach Shukri to swim and this ill-considered act went badly wrong. She did not force Shukri into the water; she did not undertake any actions with the explicit intention of causing her harm. She was in unfamiliar water the dangers of which I am satisfied were not fully appreciated. At its highest, this was a serious error of judgment. I am sure the ramifications of the 27th of June 2019 will be felt by many for a long time.”

Considering the application for judicial review, Justice Fordham concluded “it is not arguable with any realistic prospect of success” that the law and fairness required the coroner to investigate the claims said to have been made by three children concerning alleged “planning”’ or “pushing”.
Shukri’s mother had said in a statement for the inquest that “Shukri was subjected to a daily campaign of bullying by (Child Two) and her friends.”

An internal investigation by Broad Oak High School concluded in August 2019. Abdi’s family were dissatisfied by the report, believing it to be insufficiently detailed. They criticised the manner in which they were treated when going to the police station to receive the report.
The judge pointed out that Shukri’s mother had conceded that she did not know Child One and as far as she was aware, there were no issues between Child One and her daughter.

In his ruling, Justice Fordham said, “I have been unable to find in this case any arguable ground for judicial review having a realistic prospect of success. I have been shown no aspect of the process, reasoning or conclusions which, in my judgment – whether individually or cumulatively with other features of the case – entails any arguable vitiating flaw in public law terms.”

He concluded, “Since for the reasons I have given I have been unable to find any arguable ground for judicial review to have any realistic prospect of success, I refuse the renewed application for permission for judicial review.”

Protests developed after the police’s and school’s initial response to Abdi’s death. The campaign Justice4Shukri was founded.

A petition calling for a criminal investigation to be launched had garnered either 32,000 signatures by July, according to the Bury Times, or 5,000 signatures by August 2019, according to HuffPost. It had garnered 100,000 signatures by May 2020. By mid-June, this number had risen to 850,000, reaching one million by the end of the month. A separate petition about both Abdi’s death and that of Christopher Kapessa reached 5,000 signatures by March 2020.

In June 2020, for the first anniversary of Abdi’s death, eight protests in association with Black Lives Matter took place in the UK, locations including Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester, London, and Sheffield. Additional protests occurred in Los Angeles and Toronto.

The BBC reported that thousands of people attended the protests. Justice4Shukri member Maz Saleem commented that “People are angry that a young black refugee child was neglected by the very institutions that were there to protect her.” He believed that “systemic and institutional racism played a huge role” in the incidents.

Photo: A Black Lives Matter protest march calling for justice for Shukri Abdi in central London, on June 27, 2020, the first anniversary of Shukri Abdi’s drowning in the River Irwell in Bury. (Credit: Isabel Infantes/Anadolu Agency)

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