THE death of a 15-year-old boy who fell from the back of a moving horse trailer at Appleby Horse Fair in 2023 was accidental, an inquest has heard. 

Denis Ward, from Bradford, was seen by several eyewitnesses falling from a sulky - a small cart with two wheels - which was affixed to a trailer pulled by a moving pickup truck, on June 9, 2023. 

Denis was seen falling backwards and hitting his head on the road, as the vehicle turned left at a fork from the ‘chaotic’ Battlebarrow road in Appleby, towards the A66. 

According to an eyewitness, Yasmin Doe, Denis was ‘instantly unconscious’ and began having a seizure on the road. 

Police officers and paramedics attended, and an air ambulance was requested as it became clear that his injuries were severe, and he was airlifted to James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough. 

His condition deteriorated, and after doctors ran a series of tests, Denis was declared brain-stem dead on June 14.

A funeral including white horses adorned with feathers, floral tributes, Irish flags, and photographs was held in Bradford on June 27.

The service was held at St. Columba's Church on Tong Street before the procession travelled to Bowling Cemetery. 

An array of luxury silver Rolls Royce cars and white vans with ‘DenisNO1’ plates, Manchester United stickers, and ice cream cone statues lined the street.

One sign affectionately referred to the teenager as 'My DEN, Our DEN, My Beauty, Baby DEN'.Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Tributes to Denis Ward

A police statement read to the coroners' court in Cockermouth indicated that ‘hitching a ride’ is ‘common’ among young people at the fair, and is often done without the driver’s knowledge, as they travel back from the town to their accommodation. 

It said the practice is identified as ‘a risk’, and that people are ‘generally compliant’ when asked to get off moving vehicles, and no fatalities had previously been recorded. 

A police investigation concluded that the driver, who was seen driving away from the incident, was unaware that Denis was on the trailer, and had no knowledge of it until police tracked him down. 

Officers seized the driver’s phone and found no evidence that he had been aware of the incident. 

A female passenger independently corroborated this when interviewed by police, and no further action was taken against the driver.

The investigation also deemed that excessive speed was unlikely to be a factor as the area at the time was ‘busy, chaotic, slow-moving, and stationary at times’. 

The statement said that the street was crowded with vehicles, pedestrians, and horses. 

Area coroner for Cumbria, Ms Kirsty Gomersal, stated that several concerns had been sent to her about the nature of Appleby Horse Fair, mainly that, as the fair is not an ‘event’ but more a ‘gathering in a public place’ that has a long tradition, there is no overarching organisation to manage the fair. 

Ms Gomersal heard that various requests have been made to turn the fair into a ticketed event, but the legality of doing so is unclear. 

A police statement said that management of the fair aims to strike a balance between protecting the rights of the visiting communities with local residents, and aside from closing off the streets to vehicles entirely, which would be 'extremely challenging', it would be impossible to eliminate the practice of ‘hitching a ride'.

It said that warning messages are part of 2024’s plan, including several signs about the dangers of climbing aboard moving vehicles, focused mainly on Battlebarrow.

Ms Gomersal concluded that nobody was to blame for Denis’ death.

She said the fact that Appleby Horse Fair has no central organisation was ‘not a specific factor in Denis’ death’.

Tributes were paid across social media to the much-loved teenager following his death.

One social media user asked people to keep the Ward family in their thoughts on the day of Denis' funeral.

"May the lord give strength and carry them absolutely heart breaking," she said. 

Another wrote: "Young Denis is getting laid to rest today. RIP YOUNG Denis Ward."

T&A readers were among those sharing messages of condolence to the family.

Pauline Smith said: "Beautiful send off may he rest in peace."

Another reader, Paula, said: "Rest in paradise young man x thinking of the family."

Mohammad Yaqoob said: "My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. RIP young man."