The unexpected death of a caring and popular Exeter teenager who took his own life after breaking up with his girlfriend has prompted a coroner to call upon society to do more to support young men.
A major search operation was launched by police and coastguards after William Fowles, 18, sent text messages to his ex-girlfriend on September 24, 2019, which gave her cause for concern.
An inquest at Exeter’s County Hall today heard his car was located at Beer Head public car park, and his body was found the following day partway down a cliff by a volunteer coastguard. The edge of the cliff was only accessible by climbing over a fence.
A statement from William’s father, Stuart, told how his two sons lived with him and that his mother lived in Australia.
He recalled how the former Broadclyst Primary School and Clyst Vale Community College pupil was working full-time as a bricklayer in the local area after completing an NVQ Level 2 bricklaying course.
Mr Fowles described his son as being a ‘big strong mighty lad’ who was very caring, happy go lucky, and sociable with hundreds of friends.
The inquest heard he started seeing his girlfriend at the beginning of 2019, and that he then changed ‘quite a bit’ as he saw less of his friends, and would stay at her house.
Mr Fowles told how he believed their relationship came to an end on September 22.
After William finished work the next day he said they had a conversation about the break-up and he had been a ‘bit tearful’, but had gone to work fine the next day.
On the day of his disappearance he said William had gone to work as usual and they had enjoyed dinner together before William left at 6.15pm stating he was going to meet friends to fit something onto his car which he put into his vehicle.
It was only after William’s death that Mr Fowles discovered his friends had cancelled meeting up.
Mr Fowles said: “Will was happy when he left.”
A text message was then received at around 8.10pm from his then ex-girlfriend asking Mr Fowles if he had heard from William. In her next message she said she was concerned as he had said he was on cliffs at Beer.
William was reported missing to the coastguard by his ex-girlfriend’s sister at 9pm and at 10pm Mr Fowles was told William’s car had been located.
Describing his relationship with his son as having been very open, he said: “I don’t believe Will would have intentionally jumped off a cliff. He had too much to live for.”
He continued: “The only thing not going well in his life was his relationship.”
Mr Fowles confirmed he had never known William to have made any previous attempts to end his life which was referenced in a text message William sent to his ex-girlfriend.
Mr Fowles said: “I think it was his way of trying to get her attention.”
William was found following an extensive search of the area which had been halted the previous night due to bad weather conditions.
A post mortem examination confirmed the cause of William’s death was severe head injury. Toxicology tests confirmed he had not taken any drugs and alcohol.
His GP confirmed William had not been to the doctor’s since 2014, was fit and healthy, and had no history of mental health illness.
A police investigation concluded there were no suspicious circumstances or third party involvement, and there was no evidence that any criminal offence had been committed relating to the death.
A review of text message on William’s phone confirmed that his second to last message to his ex-girlfriend ‘read like a suicide note’ in which he apologised and thanked her for everything she had done for him, and to tell his parents how much he loved them.
He then received more than 160 unread texts from her.
The officer in the case said: “It appears he took the break up with his girlfriend very badly.”
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Recording a conclusion of suicide, coroner Deborah Archer said: “Will was to all intents and purposes a fun, loving, social young man with many interests and friends which makes the events on September 24 and 25 all the more tragic for his family and all who knew him.
“It would appear from the text messages I have seen and studied that during the week of September 21 and 22, the couple appeared to be getting on fine.
“It was on September 23, where they had what I describe as a teenage argument which resulted in them separating.”
She described the messages as a reflection of an ‘intense, immature relationship between two young people’, but that his final texts expressed a clear intention to take his own life, along with feelings of poor self-esteem and self-worth.
She said: “His girlfriend sent 163 text messages to him afterwards that night. It is extremely clear this was a young woman who still had feelings for him and was very worried about him.”
Mrs Archer concluded: “I do find that on the balance of probability, Will took his own life by jumping off a cliff and intended to take his life.
“It is an absolute tragedy and sadly something as a society that we need to stop happening to our young men.”
The Samaritans can be reached round the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you need a response immediately, it’s best to call them on the phone. You can reach them by calling 116 123, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting www.samaritans.org
Local help is also available from Devon-based charity Andy’s Man Club. It has four groups across Devon with a mission to reduce the number of deaths by suicide in men.