THE MOTHER of a schoolgirl killed by falling cliff rock at the seaside has said she will be forever 'haunted' by the tragedy. 

An inquest heard details today about the death of Harriet Forster, from Weston-on-the-Green near Bicester, who was hailed by her mum as the 'light of my life'. 

The nine-year-old Dragon School pupil was fatally struck by a falling 'boulder' in the North Yorkshire village of Staithes in August, where she and her family were visiting her aunt. 

At Harriet's inquest at Scarborough Town Hall today, coroner for North Yorkshire Michael Oakley described her death as the most tragic case he had dealt with in his 40-year career.

Harriet was hit by the crumbling cliff face on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 8, while walking near the sea with her mum Holly.

A letter penned by Mrs Forster was read out at the inquest, but the coroner said she was unable to attend in person as she was still 'haunted day and night' by the horror of what happened.

Her letter stated: "The sights and smells of that day are never far from my mind. 

"Being without her, the apple of my eye and light of my life, causes me so much pain that I suspect I will never recover from.

"I would swap places with her in a heartbeat."

Coroner Mr Oakley said it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but has also called for measures to prevent such a tragedy striking again. 

John Woodhead, an engineer at Scarborough Borough Council, told the inquest that in the space of two years there had been 55,000 rock falls in the area.

Residents on the coast have said visitors are often unaware of the precarious nature of the shale rock, although there is one red danger sign screwed to the rock face in the area.


The danger sign on the beach. Picture: Owen Humphreys/Press Association

Mr Oakley suggested better signage to warn people of the danger of the cliffs, and for authorities to consider a permanent barrier preventing people from straying too close to their base. 

A post-mortem examination revealed Harriet died from multiple injuries to her head, chest and abdomen. 

Mr Oakley told the inquest: "She was hit by a particularly large boulder and despite the valiant efforts of off-site police and paramedics, as well as members of the public, they were unable to save Harriet."

In her statement, Mrs Forster told how she and her daughter had gone 'rock pebbling' in order to test out a new GoPro camera. 

She added that they were around 10ft away from the edge of the cliff when she heard the 'scattering noise of pebbles' and saw stones falling, including 'one larger bit of rock about 2ft by a bit less than 2ft'.

Mrs Forster said she and Harriet, who was standing closer to the sea than her, were both hit by rocks as they attempted to run away.

At one point she had desperately cried 'big rock, big rock' at her daughter, the inquest heard.

The mother added that, once the rock fall had ended, she looked up to see her daughter lying a short distance away with 'blue lips'.

Her statement said she had thought: "Don't be dead". 

An off-duty police officer rushed to their aid and performed CPR on Harriet, before carrying her away from the rock face on a child's surfboard to continue resuscitation.

Despite his efforts and that of an off-duty paramedic, and other emergency services who arrived soon after, they were unable to save her.

The coroner recorded a conclusion of accidental death. 


Emergency services at the Staithes rock fall site. Photo: Barbara Govan/Twitter/PA Wire

Harriet is survived by her parents, her sister Sophie and her brother Sam.

In September Harriet's sister, 27, told the Oxford Mail how the family had been 'struck with a sense of helplessness' after her little sister's death.

READ AGAIN: 'She was the coolest girl I knew': family of Harriet Forster urge others to do something in her memory

About 500 people attended Harriet's funeral at St Andrew's Church in North Oxford in September.

Mrs Forster's letter, read at the inquest, stated: "I would like to say on record that Harriet could not have been more loved and cherished by all who knew her."

READ AGAIN: Harriet Forster from Oxford killed in Staithes rock fall

Her family set up online fundraising pages for Yorkshire Air Ambulance and The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which have so far raised £5,135 and £853 respectively.

Writing on the Facebook fundraising page for the air ambulance, the family said they had been 'truly blown away by the influx of support', and we will be 'eternally grateful'. 

In August the headmaster of the Dragon School in North Oxford described Harriet as 'vivacious, gifted and kind'. 

READ AGAIN: Dragon School's tribute to Harriet Forster after rock fall

Before attending the Dragon, Harriet was a pupil at Kirtlington CE Primary School near Bicester, and staff there had specialist support and training following the tragedy. 

A book of condolence was opened at St Andrew’s Church following Harriet's death and, in a newsletter circulated on Monday, Kirtlington school said the book was still accessible. 

The newsletter added: "The memory book is still available should anyone wish to send a special message to the family of Harriet Forster.

"Please ask at the school office and share this information with friends and family outside of our school family."

In an obituary published by The Guardian the week before last, Harriet was hailed for her 'inquiring mind and infectious enthusiasm for life'. 

The obituary said Harriet 'giggled her way through every day' but was also diplomatic and intelligent, and earned more 'pluses' - recognition for good work - than any child in the history of the Dragon School, many for her kindness.