A 13-year-old boy was killed when a homemade air rifle held by a lifelong friend accidentally discharged and hit him in the neck, an inquest heard.
Ben Wragge, 13, was fatally struck while playing with a group of boys at a friend’s house in the village of Thurston, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
One boy, referred to as youth three, was holding the weapon when it fired without the trigger being pulled, Thursday’s inquest at Suffolk coroner’s court in Ipswich was told.
DI Kevin Hayward of Suffolk Police said youth three was “holding the sight to see how far he could see, focusing on different trees”.
Hayward continued: “He then swung around to hand the weapon over, then felt a shake. He did not think the weapon was loaded and he did not think he fired the weapon. He heard Ben shout ‘ow’. He did not think anything had happened until he saw blood.”
His friends raised the alarm immediately and Ben’s mother, Claire, performed CPR on him, but he died at the West Suffolk hospital shortly afterwards on 1 May 2016.
Hayward said that the weapon was not made by a commercial manufacturer. It was a .22 air rifle which had a telescopic sight and silencer, could be loaded with up to nine pellets without them being visible, had no safety catch, and could discharge without the trigger being pulled.
Two teenage boys were initially arrested on suspicion of manslaughter but were told in July 2016 that they faced no further action.
The senior coroner Dr Peter Dean said there was a problem in the perception that air weapons are not as lethal as shotguns and licensed rifles.
He said: “They’re clearly, as can be seen by this tragedy, weapons which can be lethal.”
Dean asked that the Home Office review the individual circumstances and the legislation around the use of airguns.
He said: “I hope there will be a great deal of learning from this tragedy that might prevent similar tragedies in the future.”
Dean recorded a conclusion of accidental death.
Speaking after the inquest, a relative Zoe Wragge, speaking on behalf of the family, said: “Following the tragic death of Ben, we very strongly feel that had the law on the licensing, registration, and storage of airguns been amended in the past, Ben’s death could have been prevented.
“We today presented the details of 18 previous deaths caused by air rifles over the last several years, as well as numerous serious injuries, and we hope that any further tragedies can now be prevented.”