“I didn’t want to rock the boat – I wish I had now…”

The boy’s mum told the inquest she “didn’t want to rock the boat” by raising concerns with nursery staff on the morning he died in hospital days before he suffocated.

On the first day of today’s inquest into nine-month-old Oliver Steeper, his mother Zoe told how she found pieces of pineapple and cherries in his illness a week before the incident.

Oliver Steeper died after choking on food while in the care of Jelly Beans Day Nursery in Ashford. Image: Lewis Steeper

Mrs Steeper recalled an earlier conversation with staff at Jelly Beans Day Nursery in Kingsnorth, Ashford, when she told them about her son’s meal and understood it would be prepared by the nursery.

Mrs Steeper told the jury at Oakwood House, Maidstone, this morning: “I told her [the staff member] most of the food he eats is pureed, she told me that would be fine since they had a blender and that his main meal would be pureed.

“At home he ate milk, plain baby porridge, lunch and dinner with porridge and a snack.

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“Oli had two little teeth that went through the bottom. This made us more careful because he obviously couldn’t chew.

“They said they would mash the food the kids would get. Spaghetti Bolognese was on the menu, we assumed it would be puréed.’

Oliver started choking and couldn’t breathe while eating after the incident on September 23, 2021 – the day he returned to nursery after being ill the previous week.

Baby Oliver Steeper with mum Zoe and dad Lewis

He died six days later at Evelina Children’s Hospital in London.

Ms Steeper said on September 16 that her child was “unusually grumpy”, which she and Oliver’s father Lewis attributed to him picking up his first bug.

“We assumed he was bad,” Ms Steeper said.

“He was very sick that evening. There were whole pieces of pineapple in the sick.

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“At first we wondered how on earth he could eat them.” I later realized it must have been on maternity leave.

“The app said he got a fruit salad.

The inquest, which is expected to last 10 days, is being deliberated by a jury. Image: Lewis Steeper

“We assumed it would be a puree, of course when we realized it was coming out with bits of cherry and pineapple it was clear it wasn’t a puree and we had a discussion and I said I’ll talk.” to kindergarten next week.

“My husband suggested I write an email. It seems silly now, but I didn’t want to rock the boat, I didn’t want them to think I was pushy.’

Mrs. Steeper, who at times bravely fought back tears as she testified, recalled the morning she last dropped Oliver off at the nursery.

“I felt rushed because I knew I was going to be late,” she said.

“We got to the nursery, when I got there the lady I gave him to seemed quite stressed and busy.

“She didn’t push me away, but she kind of turned around and said okay, thank you.

Oliver Steeper was only nine months old

“I didn’t feel like I could call her back and ask her about the pineapple. I wish I had now.”

The inquest is to hear evidence from nursery school staff including two cooks.

Oliver’s parents have previously said they believe there were “missed opportunities” in the way the incident was handled that could have saved their son’s life.

The coroner and jurors will hear from several witnesses during the hearing, which is expected to last 10 days and end next Friday.

As well as Jelly Beans staff, the Steepers and another parent of the child at the nursery, the doctor who carried out Oliver’s bronchoscopy and a representative from the education watchdog Ofsted will also give evidence.

At the end of the second pre-inquest review – setting a hearing format – earlier this year, Oliver’s parents said they felt “no stone would be left unturned” during the inquest.

Jelly Beans Day Nursery closed after incident in September 2021

Coroner Katrina Hepburn said the inquest would look into the background of Oliver’s “developmental stage, particularly in terms of his feeding, to understand what he might have eaten that day”.

It will also look into staff training, meal preparation and decisions about who was responsible for deciding what which child eats.

Similar to juries at crown courts, jurors listen to the evidence presented and decide on a conclusion.

The Steepers have been open about their experience of losing a child and have since welcomed another son, Jake, in January 2023.

Speaking about their youngest boy later this year, Mr Steeper said: “When Oliver died, at first it was a hole in the house that we couldn’t fill.

“Now we have Jake and he’s nine months old so he’s kind of filled that gap, but Jake has Oliver like a spit, so he’s constantly reminding us every day that Oliver isn’t there, but we’re grateful to have Jake to continue our family. “

The inquest is being held at Oakwood House in Maidstone

After Oliver’s death, Ofsted temporarily closed Jelly Beans in Field View pending a full investigation into the “serious safety concerns” surrounding the incident.

However, parents and carers were later informed that the owner of the nursery had voluntarily closed the facility.

When the inquest opened in 2022, Oliver’s cause of death was given as brain injury and cardiorespiratory arrest following “aspiration of food during a choking episode”.

After Oliver’s death, Ofsted temporarily closed Jelly Beans in Field View pending a full investigation into the “serious safety concerns” surrounding the incident.

However, parents and carers were later informed that the owner of the nursery had voluntarily closed the facility.

In February 2023, the police investigation into the circumstances of the tragedy, which had been launched more than a year earlier, was closed.