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Coroner says teenager Ben Wragge’s airgun death was ‘very rare tragic accident’

Ben Wragge
Ben Wragge

A coroner is to ask the Home Office to review legislation controlling the use of air weapons following the death of a 13-year-old boy.

Ben Wragge had been enjoying a day with friends in Thurston on May 1 last year when he was accidentally shot in the neck.

Ben Wragge's family after the inquest.
Ben Wragge's family after the inquest.

Suffolk Coroner Dr Peter Dean recorded a conclusion of accidental death, describing it as a ‘very rare tragic accident’.

Dr Dean said: “It is clear that no malice or harm was intended by any of the the people involved as this tragedy unfolded.”

The coroner said he would be writing to the Home Office to request a review of the legislation surrounding the ownership and use of airguns to ‘prevent further tragedies in the future’.

Richard Kennett, joint firearms licensing manager for Norfolk and Suffolk Police, told the inquest the gun which fatally injured Ben had been ‘home made’ by the person who sold it and who was not a recognised manufacturer.

Had the law on the licensing and registration and storage of airguns been amended in the past, Ben’s death could have prevented.
Zoe Wragge

The air rifle had no safety catch, could be fired without pulling the trigger and it could not be seen if it was loaded.

Mr Kennett said he believed that while there was usually education surrounding shotguns and licensed rifles, less took place regarding the ownership and use of air weapons which were legal for people as young as 14 to use on private land.

In a statement read to the inquest by Suffolk Coroner Dr Peter Dean, Ben’s grandfather Harry Wragge said the use of air weapons should be restricted to people aged over 18.

Speaking on behalf of the family, he said: “In our view all lethal airguns should be registered and licensed as they are in Scotland.”

Ben Wragge
Ben Wragge

Ben, of Main Road, Great Ashfield, was taken by ambulance to the West Suffolk Hospital where he was declared dead later the same afternoon.

A post mortem examination by pathologist Dr Benjamin Swift concluded that Ben died from injuries resulting from being shot in the neck by an airgun pellet.

Detective Inspector Kevin Hayward, of Suffolk and Norfolk Major Investigation team, said interviews with three other boys who had been present revealed that initially they had not been aware the airgun had been fired as it was fitted with a silencer.

The boy who had been holding the weapon said he felt a shake and a dull thud but only realised that Ben had been hit when he heard him cry out and saw blood. The boy said he did not know the gun was loaded.

The three boys said they immediately sought help from neighbours and flagged down passing motorists.

The inquest heard that the weapon had been owned by the father of one of the boys and at the time of the tragedy the boys had been examining it and looking through the telescopic sight.

DI Hayward said the airgun had been taken out of the airing cupboard where it was stored by the boy who had brought his friends home to see progress on the building of a new shed.

Although the weapon was found to be slightly more powerful than the limit requiring the holding for a firearms certificate, it had been sold by the manufacturer and accepted by the purchaser as complying with that limit.

After the inquest, Zoe Wragge, a cousin of Ben’s father, Robert Wragge, 42, spoke on behalf of the family.

She said: “Following the tragic death of Ben, we very strongly feel that had the law on the licensing and registration and storage of airguns been amended in the past, Ben’s death could have prevented.

“We today presented details of 18 previous deaths caused by air rifles over several years as well as numerous serious injuries and we hope that any further tragedies can be prevented.

“The coroner has concluded that Ben’s death was a tragic accident and will now be making a recommendation to the Home Office to now review these laws.”

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