Coroner issues “bottle propping” warning after death of Gainsborough baby

Alex Masters. Photo courtesy of Media Lincs.
Alex Masters. Photo courtesy of Media Lincs.

A coroner has warned of the dangers of feeding babies with “propped up” bottles of milk following the death of a four-month-old Gainsborough boy.

Senior Lincolnshire coroner Stuart Fisher issued the advice after finding that Alex Masters had choked to death from milk in his bottle after his godmother Claire Sawyer fell asleep on the sofa.

Alex died after being taken to Lincoln County Hospital on October 3, 2015.

In his legal narrative verdict Mr Fisher said he found Ms Sawyer to be an “unreliable witness” and concluded that she had bottle-propped Alex in his car seat at around 8am.

The coroner said he also found that Ms Sawyer knew what had happened to Alex before she called 999.

Mr Fisher said it was clear from a consultant paediatrician who gave evidence during the inquest that babies should not be left unsupervised if they are being fed with milk from a propped-up bottle as there was a risk of choking.

The practice of “bottle propping” is not illegal, but the coroner warned: “Parents or carers should not take their eyes off a baby if they are being fed milk from a propped bottle.”

Mr Fisher also warned of the dangers of falling asleep on the sofa while caring for a baby.

The inquest at Lincoln Cathedral Centre previously heard how the baby boy was found with milk in his lungs, but the cause of his death could not be found.

Giving evidence, Ms Sawyer, 41, claimed she fell asleep after giving Alex a bottle of milk on the sofa.

But the inquest also heard Ms Sawyer gave varying accounts of the night, did not attempt to resuscitate Alex and may have delayed calling 999.

She also told a nurse “she had killed the baby” after putting him in his car seat with his milk bottle propped underneath him by a blanket.

Police were unable to bring any criminal charges against Ms Sawyer after the cause of Alex’s death could not be established.

A post mortem also found Alex had two leg fractures that police concluded were ‘non-accidental’ - but they were unable to determine how he sustained those injuries because of the number of people who looked after him in the final days of his life.

Alex’s mother, Chloe Masters, 18, told the inquest she would not have allowed her son to stay overnight with Ms Sawyer if she had known her more responsible daughter, Alice, was not present. Miss Masters also insisted that she would never have allowed Alex to stay if she had known that he was sleeping in a car seat.

Miss Masters and Alex’s father, Michael Trotter, it was said, had only agreed to let their son stay overnight with Ms Sawyer and her daughter after Miss Masters was prescribed diazepam for chronic back pain and advised by a doctor to get some help.

The inquest was told Ms Sawyer had a history of illegal drug use, however toxicology tests showed there was no evidence Ms Sawyer had drunk alcohol or taken drugs on the night she was looking after Alex at a flat in Lincoln.

A safeguarding report carried out after Alex’s death found GP records showed his young mum was suffering back pain and struggling to cope, and both mother and baby should have received more individual help and been subject to a “Children in Need” plan.

Dr Russell Wate, who carried out the report, said parents needed to be advised that it was not safe for babies to sleep in car seats overnight or to be fed with their bottles “propped up.”