Towards the end of the agonisingly long and drawn-out inquest into the death of 16-year-old Ben Nelson-Roux, a poignant video was played in the coroner’s court, at his parents’ request.
Overlain with tributes from his friends and his maths tutor, it showed an exuberant boy enjoying a wholesome upbringing in the most affluent part of Yorkshire.
Here was Ben, enjoying outdoorsy holidays with his father, Barry Nelson, 57, a global operations manager with Mastercard, and mother, Kate Roux, 47, a massage therapist and Tai Chi teacher, who responsibly and lovingly co-parented him after their separation.
There he was, driving a tractor during a carefree weekend on the Wensleydale farm run by his beloved Uncle Willie, who always let him wear his overly-long, brown overcoat.
A coat that Ben liked so much that his parents — who gave him a natural funeral in the countryside and adorned his coffin with his favourite bird, a red kite — decided he should be dressed in it when they laid him to rest. The contrast between the boy we saw in that film and the anguished teenager he had become by the time his mother found him, lying lifeless on his bed in a squalid homeless hostel, is almost unfathomable.
It serves as a grim reminder of the catastrophic consequences when any young person — and particularly someone as vulnerable as Ben, who suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — falls into the clutches of a County Lines drugs gang.
According to a recent government report, these predatory syndicates have ensnared tens of thousands of children, some of primary school age, and now pervade virtually every corner of Britain.
The inquest into Ben’s death ended on Monday. Having heard that he had taken cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy, North Yorkshire Senior Coroner Jon Heath decided that he had probably died of multiple drug use.
However, the precise cause could not be established because Ben died during the Covid pandemic, in April 2020, and an intrusive post-mortem examination was not carried out.
Mr Heath said Ben should not have been placed in the hostel, a converted Victorian house in Harrogate intended for adults aged over 25, which was clearly unsuitable for his needs and plagued with drug and alcohol abuse and outbreaks of violence.
He said local councils ought to have cast the net wider when searching for suitable accommodation. He will write to the Health Secretary to express concern over the lack of drug facilities for people aged under 18.
Outside the court, Ben’s parents expressed dismay at the outcome, saying the hearing had failed to provide the answers they sought. They claimed Ben had been ‘failed in death as he was in life’, and that his ‘life was seen as less valuable because he used drugs’.