A talented screenwriter whose work was in demand by major TV studios died after falling from a 260ft drop at Yorkshire Dales beauty spot Malham Cove.
Senior North Yorkshire coroner Jonathan Heath told an inquest held at County Hall in Northallerton on Tuesday that there was ‘not enough evidence’ one way or another to say whether Neil Jaworski, 43, intended to end his own life or slipped and fell accidentally while hiking in treacherous weather conditions in June 2019.
Mr Jaworski and Smack the Pony’s Sally Phillips co-wrote the 2011 romantic comedy The Decoy Bride, which was set in the Outer Hebrides and stars David Tennant, Alice Eve and Trainspotting’s Kelly Macdonald.
At the time of his death the University of Leeds graduate was working on a project with Wallace and Gromit studio Aardman Animation and adapting a biography of the life of Paul McCartney for the screen.
The inquest heard that a detective called to the scene initially believed Mr Jaworski had taken his own life, and he had been reported missing three days previously after an ‘out of character’ altercation with his younger brother at the family home in Bury. He had suffered from a previous psychotic episode in 2018 and after he travelled by train from his flat in Manchester to Skipton via Leeds on June 7, he was witnessed behaving erratically in a pizza shop.
Yet Mr Jaworski’s family believe he was simply on an ‘off-grid’ walking holiday and fell accidentally from the 260ft drop due to his clumsy nature and overladen backpack.
After his sister Melanie contacted Greater Manchester Police on June 5, he was traced to a pub in Malham two days later by local officers who said he claimed to be backpacking and looking for accommodation for the night.
Earlier that day, police had been called to a takeaway in Skipton to reports that a man behaving strangely had abandoned his luggage and told staff he wanted to go to Malham before leaving in a taxi.
When officers found Mr Jaworski, he appeared in good spirits and seemed confused about why he had been reported missing, saying he had switched his mobile phone off to help him relax.
After failing to find a room in Malham, the officers drove him back to Skipton police station, where he spoke to his father and sister by phone and reassured them that he was well and on holiday. He offered no explanation for why he had left his belongings in the takeaway, but did not seem distressed and was laughing and joking with officers, who described him as ‘polite and intelligent’.
He was found a room at the Ibis Hotel in Shipley and taken there by police who said there were no concerns about his behaviour or reasons to detain him. However, after his backpack was searched, notes making references to conspiracy theories and the illuminati were found inside.
The next day, a cleaner found several items had appeared to have been left in his hotel room after he left at 7am, including clothing and a carrier bag containing paperwork. He is then thought to have caught a train from Shipley back to Skipton.
Mr Jaworski climbed up to Malham Cove via a public footpath in heavy rain and conditions that were described as ‘treacherous’. Walker Andrew Taylor saw a man matching his description standing alone around 20 yards from the edge of the drop after he and his wife had decided against continuing to Gordale Scar because of the wet ground.
At around 11.30am, the Taylors noticed that the man had moved further down and was standing in what they considered to be a dangerous position close to the edge, and they believed he had climbed over a fence to access this area. They then heard what they thought to be a rock fall and initially believed a climber had fallen. They heard no scream or shout.
A second witness, experienced climber Christopher Sykes, was on the face of Malham Cove when heard the crack of branches and also feared a rock fall. When he looked down, he saw a man’s body face down in the stream at the foot of the Cove. Mr Sykes also confirmed that he heard no sound from the man.
Investigating officer Detective Sergeant Paul Schofield attended the scene and stated that he believed there was no criminal involvement. A postmortem report found that Mr Jaworski’s injuries were not survivable and that he had no alcohol or drugs in his system.
The inquest heard from several mental health professionals as well as Mr Jaworski’s GP and family members about his previous issues with anxiety and paranoia, as well as a psychotic episode he had suffered in the autumn of 2018.
During this episode, he was taken to hospital by his family and co-operated with treatment, though he did not meet the threshold for compulsory treatment. In A&E, he told staff that he felt as if he was being watched, followed and that his flat was bugged. He was described as ‘hypervigilant and suspicious’, but denied any desire to harm himself or others.
After moving back into his apartment from the family home, Mr Jaworski was referred to a Manchester-based NHS early intervention team. He was offered an assessment, but declined and said he had reflected on what had happened and had made an appointment with his GP to discuss this. He denied experiencing a psychotic episode and refused anti-psychotic medication.
The referral was closed, and though it was reviewed in October 2018, staff believed there was not enough evidence to escalate their intervention.
However, in January 2019 they received a fresh referral from Mr Jaworski’s GP, who told them his patient had delusions about the occult and his family and appeared to have disordered thoughts. Mr Jaworski was offered another assessment by phone but seemed ‘irritable’ and ended the call. Eventually, an assessment was conducted with his GP present in which he presented with residual symptoms of psychosis. He told assessors that suicide was against his Catholic faith and that he had sought counselling from the LGBT Foundation. He was reluctant to accept further support from anyone other than his GP, but agreed to keep the referral open.
From then until his death in June, he did not respond to letters or emails from the service, and he was discharged back to the care of his GP in March with no onward referrals.
Mr Jaworski’s father David, an insurance broker, said he believed his son’s death was an accident as he was equipped for a camping trip and was prone to clumsiness which could have caused him to slip in the wet conditions.
Though he accepted that he had suffered a breakdown in his mental health in late 2018, David Jaworski said Neil did not wish to take medication because he feared it would stifle his creativity. He then made a number of lifestyle changes, including giving up alcohol, and his family did not have further concerns about his wellbeing. He was planning to take a sabbatical from his film and TV script writing work and had applied to volunteer with a charity overseas.
“Neil told us he wanted a break and to explore Yorkshire. He was ‘off-grid’ and didn’t want any work calls to disturb him. He was acting rationally.
“The weather was rainy and the rocks would have been slippy. He was equipped for camping and he had a return train ticket home. Neil was always clumsy – he would trip over anything. It’s not somewhere we would have wanted him to climb alone, as it’s a dangerous place where a walker died as recently as 2016.
“It was a massive shock to us and we were all devastated, but he was making concrete plans for the future. He was working through his mental health issues, and by going up there he was getting back to nature. We think it was an unfortunate accident.
“We saw him a few days before and he was focusing on applying for his volunteer position. After the episode in 2018, he gave up alcohol and red meat. We supported his choices and he was very open about his mental health. He seemed to have a new plan for a more selfless life, and had been helping refugees to learn English.
“Neil was wickedly funny, vivacious, sociable, and loved by many.”
Senior coroner Jonathan Heath said that although notes were found among Neil’s possessions, they made references to God and the universe and were not addressed to anyone, therefore were not considered as an indication that he had taken his own life.
Recording a narrative conclusion, Mr Heath said: “There is no evidence that he wanted to harm himself or others. The notes make no reference to him wanting to end his life. There is insufficient evidence to say that he intended to do this, and also insufficient evidence to say for sure that it was an accident.”