Troubled teen injected herself with deadly sheep antibiotic on Acton farm

Charlotte Cobbald Picture: Anthony Mosley
Charlotte Cobbald Picture: Anthony Mosley
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A farmer’s teenage daughter who battled anorexia and depression died after injecting herself with an antibiotic used for cows and sheep, an inquest heard today.

Charlotte Cobbald, 17, grabbed a bottle of the drug as her father Stephen, 70, stood feet away on the family farm at Acton and injected just one millilitre into herself then ran off.

Mr Cobbald caught up in a vehicle and called emergency services but Charlotte died in hospital shortly after.

The inquest heard that safety leaflets advised the drug only be administered by veterinary surgeons who were warned against pricking themselves. The dose for cattle is between 1-2ml per 30kg of weight. The inquest heard paramedics had to ask their base to look up the antibiotic and its affects.

Charlotte was an A* GCSE student who had a talent for sheep farming but had battled anorexia and depression.

On August 4, she came home on day leave from a local mental health unit where she had been since February, and took some training sheepdogs out with her father but told him she felt she was a ‘complete failure’.

They returned to the farm office where farm secretary Katherine Turner was working and while her father stood at the door Charlotte went to a fridge, found the bottle of antibiotics and injected herself.

Mrs Turner said: “I don’t know how we didn’t see. Mr Cobbald seemed to know something had happened. He said ‘have you done something’ and she replied yes.

“She just ran. I got in another vehicle and followed them. She was saying ‘leave me alone, let me die, leave me to die’.

“She slumped and she was carried into the back of the car. In the office he sat on a chair holding her and he said she’d stopped breathing.”

A post mortem found that Charlotte died from poisoning from the antibiotic.

David Hall, inspector at the Veterinary Medical Directorate, visited the farm after Charlotte’s death and said her father told him he was unaware there was still some in the fridge.

Mr Hall said the drug was lethal to humans in smaller doses than given to sheep and there have been two previous fatalities where the drug was accidentally injected.

Dr Sukhi Khaira, team manager at the North Essex Partnership University NHS Trust, who conducted a serious incident review said a formal risk assessment of the farm should have been done.

He said: “The risks associated with leave on the farm should have been discussed with her parents.”

A review into Charlotte’s death by the North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust said changes will need to be made.

She had a history of self-harming and clinical psychologist Dr Kevin Beardsworth said: “There was a significant sense of hopelessness and helplessness. She had exceptionally high standards for herself, she did not feel good enough.

“If she got 99 out of 100 she would be unhappy, she was a perfectionist and this is seen in anorexia.

“She was bullied at school and began to isolate herself because she was focussed on her work.

“But by August she’d been on unescorted leave overnight with her mum and for a few hours on the farm with her father on several occasions.”

After the inquest Charlotte’s mother Hilde, 56, of Great Finborough, Suffolk, said: “Before she became unwell she had an inner zest for life and excitedly made dreams and plans for her future.

“Her beautiful smile and cheeky laughter was like the sunshine in summer, never far away and readily present.

“The acute trauma she tried to battle, despite the therapy received, supported by ourselves and her friends, took away her sunshine and she lost her battle to live.”

Recording a narrative verdict, Suffolk assistant coroner Yvonne Blake said she could not be sure Charlotte meant to kill herself, but her actions were a cry for help.

She added: “From what I’ve read of Charlotte’s state of mind and from the professionals caring for her was that she did have problems with self harm and impulsive acts.”

Ms Blake said there was no way of knowing how much Charlotte knew about the antibiotic and added: “She told someone straight away which suggests she wanted help for what she’d done.”

Mr Cobbald, a former President of the Suffolk Agricultural Association, has established a Young Farmers’ Club Stockpersons’ Competition in memory of Charlotte. It will be held for the first time at this year’s Suffolk Show, .