In blazing sunshine, a body was found. His family have scrambled for answers ever since.
Oldham dad-of-four Lee Carter travelled back from his new home in Bridlington, East Yorkshire. The Formula 1 superfan had tickets to see the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
He got on a coach heading for the event in Greater Manchester and returned in the early hours of July 4. One week later, Lee, 48, was found dead in a Stockport car park.
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“I had to sort a funeral without knowing any answers on how my son had died,” Lee’s mum, Marie Hargreaves, told the Manchester Evening News. “I want to get to the truth of it. It has to be told properly what happened to him. I’m not leaving it like this.”
Lee’s fraught loved ones have battled authorities to get to the bottom of what happened to him, all while racked with grief. He was reported missing to Humberside Police, the local force for Bridlington, on July 5 and Greater Manchester Police was informed about his disappearance.
The family believe police on both sides of the Pennines should have done more to find him. Lee had described childhood trauma and previously suffered with the death of his girlfriend, who was the mother of his four children.
He had a history of alcoholism, had previously attempted suicide, and he struggled with PTSD. But Lee’s loved ones say police did not treat him as a high-risk missing person.
They feel the search was not given the urgency it required. Neither police force issued a public appeal, which could have been shared by media including the M.E.N., for help finding him.
Lee stayed in the same Stockport car park for days before his death, where he spoke to passers-by, and his family believe someone would have reported him to police if such an appeal had been issued. Yet Humberside Police insists it carried out ‘regular risk assessments’ on Lee’s disappearance.
Meanwhile, GMP’s professional standards branch found ‘no shortcomings’ in the way it handled the search. There are no plans for an inquest to be held about Lee’s death to explore the circumstances either.
‘I was just so numb’
Ten years ago, Lee opened up to the M.E.N. about his mental health. He described how he started drinking at the age of 14, and when his girlfriend died through alcohol abuse in 2008, his life spiralled.
“I was drinking too,” Lee said in 2013. “It wasn’t excessive at first but the addiction became greater and took a hold of me. It tore my life apart and had a knock-on effect on my whole life. I tried to run away from Oldham to conquer it but I just took the addiction with me.”
Three years after his girlfriend’s death, Lee hit ‘rock bottom’. He was found collapsed in Alexandra Park, Oldham, having tried to take his own life.
“I was just so numb,” he said in 2013. “I’d decided that enough was enough – I was off the rails mentally and physically and didn’t know which way to turn. I was found in a complete daze and I wanted to finish myself off.”
At the time, Lee had stopped drinking and turned his life around. But in the years that followed, Lee’s loved ones say he returned to drink when he was struggling with his mental health.
‘They didn’t do anything’
Lesley Eccleston knew Lee for more than three years, after meeting him in Turkey. They had been a couple for around 18 months, and Lee had moved to Bridlington to live with her.
“We kept messaging each other and we eventually got together,” she said. “It wasn’t something that was meant to happen but we fell in love and that was it.”
Lesley says that Lee used medication to help with his mental health, but when he set off for the Grand Prix, he did not have it with him. His family say he had two tickets to see the event, but ended up going alone.
Lee was seen getting off the coach as it returned to Greater Manchester from the Grand Prix in the early hours of July 4, but he never returned home. He was reported missing to Humberside Police the following day – starting a week of frenzied contact between Lesley and the force.
Helplines and websites
Samaritans (116 123) samaritans.org operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at firstname.lastname@example.org , write to Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, PO Box 9090, STIRLING, FK8 2SA and visit www.samaritans.org/branches to find your nearest branch.
For support for people feeling suicidal, if you are concerned about someone or if you are bereaved by suicide see http://shiningalightonsuicide.org.uk
CALM (0800 58 58 58) thecalmzone.net has a helpline is for men who are down or have hit a wall for any reason, who need to talk or find information and support. They’re open 5pm to midnight, 365 days a year.
Greater Manchester Bereavement Service Greater Manchester Bereavement Service can help to find support for anyone in Greater Manchester that has been bereaved or affected by a death. No one needs to feel alone as they deal with their grief. www.greater-manchester-bereavement-service.org.uk
Childline (0800 1111 ) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won’t show up on your phone bill.
PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.
Beat Eating Disorders: Beat provides helplines for adults and young people offering support and information about eating disorders. These helplines are free to call from all phones. Adult Helpline: 0808 801 0677, Studentline: 0808 801 0811, Youthline: 0808 801 0711. www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk
Anorexia & Bulimia Care: ABC provide on-going care, emotional support and practical guidance for anyone affected by eating disorders, those struggling personally and parents, families and friends. Helpline: 03000 11 12 13. www.anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk/
Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts. Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying studentsagainstdepression.org
For information and links to charities and organisations that can help with substance abuse, visit https://www.supportline.org.uk/problems/drugs/
Lesley says she urged Humberside Police to consider Lee a high-risk missing person, but he never was. Lesley said: “I told them that Lee suffered PTSD, that he took meds but he had none with him.
“They didn’t even put it up to ‘medium alert’. It’s not right. I told them everything I knew about Lee and they just did not listen. They might as well have just slapped me in the face.”
Lee’s phone was still receiving calls until Friday, July 8, but he did not pick up. Lesley says she was told by Humberside Police that they weren’t allowed to track his phone’s location.
She says that each time Humberside Police spoke to her, they asked the same questions. The lack of a public appeal for Lee still haunts her.
“They didn’t do anything,” she said. “I look at Facebook and I see all these people come up on Facebook, they have been missing for hours. Lee was missing for days.”
Lee’s family in Greater Manchester say they were phoned by Humberside Police every day to check if they had heard from him. They only discovered where he had been after his death.
‘There’s something just not right’
After returning from the Grand Prix, Lee had driven in his ‘distinctive’ van to a car park off Greek Street, in Stockport. Having spoken to people in the area, the family discovered he had been parked up there from the Monday morning after the Grand Prix.
He was there for the entire week before he was found dead the following Monday, July 11. The family learned that people had been making hot drinks and sandwiches for Lee as they wanted to make sure he was OK – and they did not realise he had a family desperate to find him.
Lee’s family believe he may have been drinking before his death and that his body was found after having collapsed. Lesley, who later saw his body, says there was bruising on his lip and forehead.
She was told about Lee’s death by his sister, before police came to give her the good news. Lee’s mum Marie insists she didn’t even know Lee was missing until he had been found dead.
She wants the circumstances around why her son disappeared, what efforts were made by police in Yorkshire and Greater Manchester to find him, and what caused Lee’s death to be explored at an inquest. But having had contact with South Manchester Coroners Court, Marie says she has been told no inquest will take place, due to his death being considered ‘natural causes’.
“The statement should be given why Lee was in such a distressed state,” she said. It’s just being ignored and brushed under the carpet. I’m not doing anything different to what any other mum would do. I nearly died myself when the message came through to me.”
Lesley says the last six months have been ‘hell’ as she grieves for Lee and deals with the mental torment of what could have been had he been found, while she wants more information on what actually led to his death. “There’s something just not right,” she added.
Remembering her son, Marie added: “He was very loving, very caring. He was just a really, really nice lad. He had his problems but he was good lad.”
What the authorities say
Humberside Police says it approached GMP after it became aware Lee had travelled back to Greater Manchester. A spokesperson for for the force told the M.E.N.: “Humberside Police received a report that 48-year-old Lee Carter of Bridlington had gone missing.
“Our initial enquiries confirmed that Lee had driven to the Oldham area, where he had family and friends, to catch a coach to see an event in Northamptonshire. Lee returned to the Oldham area on a later date.
“Whilst lines of enquiry were ongoing, in accordance with the national decision-making model, regular risk assessments were carried out. Risk assessments took into account the known circumstances surrounding Lee’s disappearance with the utmost consideration given to Lee’s welfare. As a result, enquiries continued in an effort to locate Lee.”
Detective Chief Inspector Dave Jones, of GMP’s professional standards branch (PSB), added: “GMP does not underestimate the impact deaths have on the loved ones of those who lose their lives. Our thoughts remain with Mr Carter’s family.
“Keeping people safe is one of the force’s highest priorities and officers work alongside partner agencies to ensure the most appropriate response to reports of concern for welfare. In this case, following a referral from Humberside Police, GMP officers completed checks at locations associated to Mr Carter. Sadly, Mr Carter was found deceased in a public car park.
“Following the death and in line with normal procedure, referrals were made to the force’s PSB and His Majesty’s Coroner. The PSB review identified no shortcomings in GMP’s response to the referral. No complaint has been received.”
The office for South Manchester Coroners Court told the M.E.N. it would address queries about Lee’s death directly with his family. It declined to comment further.