Doncaster dad suffocated to death after getting trapped in rabbit hole

Stephen Whinfrey, 50 who died after being trapped in a rabbit hole
Stephen Whinfrey, 50 who died after being trapped in a rabbit hole

A dad suffocated after becoming wedged in a hole at a Doncaster beauty spot while trying to catch a rabbit, an inquest heard.

Stephen Norman Whinfrey had been rabbiting for most of his life and had carried out the hobby, which involves using ferrets and dogs to catch rabbits, alone many times before.

Squirrel Wood, Burghwallis. Picture: Marie Caley NDOS Squirrel Wood MC 3

Squirrel Wood, Burghwallis. Picture: Marie Caley NDOS Squirrel Wood MC 3

Mr Whinfrey, aged 50, had gone to Squirrel Wood Scout Camp near Burghwallis on January 1. He was found by a member of the public shortly before 4pm on January 2.

PC Richard Hall told Doncaster coroner’s court: “We found a male head first in a hole, only his legs and torso were visible. He was at a 45 degree angle, curved around the hole.

“There was a hand coming out of the hole, in between the male’s legs. I could not see the other hand. There were scratch marks on the ground.

“It became obvious that the man was deceased.”

PC Hall said Mr Whinfrey was ‘wedged in’ the hole.

“There was hardly any room at all, he was wedged in,” he said.

Mr Whinfrey had taken off his wellington boots and his jacket, which were found next to the hole along with two bags, one which contained ferrets, a spade, knives and a net.

There was also a dead rabbit and a fresh mound of soil next to the hole. His dog was found tied to a tree nearby.

Paramedics and fire crews attended shortly afterwards and Mr Whinfrey was pronounced dead.

The court heard Mr Whinfrey, who was unemployed at the time of his death but had previously been a pit worker for several years, suffered from mental health problems, including psychosis and depression, but was taking regular medication.

His sister Nadine Whinfrey-Gibson told the inquest: “About 10 years ago he started getting help. He took all his medication regularly, and kept all of his appointments. Once he was diagnosed he just got on with his life.

“We last saw him on New Year’s Eve. He said he was going to go rabbiting the next day and I suggested he should take cousins and an uncle as the weather had been bad and when they’d been out the previous week I knew they’d struggled to carry everything.

“He was a very giving man, he was always seeing what he could do for other people.

“We’d always have a laugh with him. He was very content with his life. He never expected much in terms of material goods, as long as he had his dog, his ferrets and his garden, he was happy.”

Mr Whinfrey, of Crossfield Lane, Skellow, had told his family he would see them for lunch at around 1pm on January 1.

But when he did not arrive they became concerned and when they still had not heard from him by the following day they called the police.

Dr Susan Rodgers, who carried out a post-mortem examination, said Mr Whinfrey had died from asphyxia due to a lack of oxygen.

“It is difficult to say exactly when Mr Whinfrey died. He had probably been dead for some hours by the time he was found.”

She said a toxicological screening found alcohol and amphetamine in Mr Whinfey’s blood and, though it was impossible to say how much of either substance was present, they may have affected his decision making process.

Assistant coroner Mark Beresford recorded a misadventure verdict and said: “Misadventure occurs when a person undertakes a task that goes unexpectedly wrong. This is what has happened in this case.”