A TEENAGER told friends he planned to jump from a bridge just minutes before a figure was seen falling into a river, an inquest was told.

John-James Elmore, also known as John-James, or JJ, Ritchie Wilson, also sent a message to a friend minutes earlier telling her that by the time she heard it, he was sorry to say he would be dead.

The hearing, at Crook Coroner’s Court, was told that two passers-by reported seeing a figure falling from Newton Cap Bridge into the River Wear, at Bishop Auckland, at about 5.30pm on February 23.

But, in cold, snowy conditions, the river was fast-flowing, and after briefly seeing someone aged about 11 or 12 in the water, the figure was unable to be traced.

Despite police searches that evening, it was only with the help of mountain rescue volunteers that officers discovered the body of 13-year-old JJ, from Bishop Auckland, more than a mile down river, at Binchester Farm, at 11.39am the following day.

A pathologist confirmed the cause of death as drowning.

The investigating officer, Detective Sergeant Joanne Long, told the inquest that two friends were socialising with JJ, in Bishop Auckland town centre, on the afternoon of February 23.

They described an incident a short-time earlier when a passing motorist remonstrated with JJ for dropping some chocolate onto his car roof from a footbridge.

He took JJ’s details, but took the incident no further after seeing there was no damage.

The trio walked off towards the river and JJ was said to have asked: “Where is the nearest bridge? I’m going to jump off.”

He then ran in the direction of Newton Cap Bridge, which was confirmed by the nearest cctv in the area.

Another friend told police he had threatened to kill himself some weeks earlier.

The inquest was told he had been teased and had verbal abuse about his long hair and voice at school, where he was on the anti-bullying committee.

The hearing was also told he had questioned his own sexuality a short time before the incident.

He was also said to have deliberately hurt his hand and asked a friend for her, “permission to die”, in a message sent three weeks earlier, while he also complained of feeling insomnia.

Assistant coroner Dr Leslie Hamilton said the comments to friends appeared “trigger events”, although there was no suggestion at the time he would take it further.

He said the altercation with the driver that afternoon also appeared to “clearly upset JJ” and he ran off saying he was going to jump from a bridge.

“The most likely explanation is that JJ jumped and then there’s an account of him floating down the river.”

Dr Hamilton said JJ may have tried to swim to safety or may have lapsed unconscious with the cold of the water.

Asking himself if there was “any explanation that it’s not suicide?”, he added: “It’s hard to think there’s any other explanation.”

The assistant coroner said he had struggled to conclude that such a young person could make a momentous decision to take his own life, but it would be doing him a “disservice” by not reaching that conclusion.

He concluded that on the balance of probabilities JJ did take his own life, recording a formal conclusion of “suicide.”

Dr Hamilton expressed condolences to JJ’s mother, Jane, step-father, James Wilson, and father, Leonard Elmore, who all observed the hearing.