Died: Police believe Katharine Hooper, 24, killed herself and her two young sons
A young mother killed herself and her five-year-old son by jumping 100ft off rocks at a beauty spot on Dartmoor yesterday.
Police believe Katharine Hooper, 24, also killed her younger son Samuel, aged two. The toddler’s body was found at her home 20 miles away.
Tourists said they saw Mrs Hooper put Joshua, five, on her shoulders before jumping off Haytor in Devon, a spot popular with ramblers.
Police opened a murder inquiry, but said they were not looking for anyone else in connection with the deaths.
Friends claimed Mrs Hooper had serious problems in her relationship, which were known to authorities.
She had gone missing a few weeks ago, prompting Devon and Cornwall police to launch a public appeal.
Last night serious concerns were raised about why officers and social services had not acted sooner to protect the children.
Mrs Hooper was last seen alive yesterday morning. She was walking with Joshua by a cliff at Haytor, which is almost 1,500ft above sea level and one of Dartmoor National Park’s most famous landmarks.
Shortly afterwards, horrified onlookers saw the pair lifeless on the ground below, after what they believed was a tragic accident.
Police, paramedics and search teams rushed to the scene and air ambulances were dispatched to airlift the pair to hospital, but both died shortly after the fall.
Later, officers travelled to Mrs Hooper’s home in Paignton, Devon, and found the body of a two-year-old boy, also thought to be her son.
It is unclear how he died but a murder investigation has been launched into the deaths.
Dartmoor: Police stood guard near the spot where the pair tragically plunged to their deaths
Detective Superintendent Paul Burgan, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said: ‘We are keeping an open mind about all three deaths, but at this stage we are not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident.
‘We are keen to speak to anyone who may have any information or might have been in the Haytor area on Friday.’
Adrian Leisk, acting chief inspector of the force, added: ‘On examination of the scene it appears they have fallen 80 to 100ft, quite a substantial fall.’
He said that the family’s next of kin had been informed, and post-mortem examinations will now be carried out on all three.
Neighbours said Miss Hooper had been experiencing problems in her relationship with the boys’ father, her long-term partner Neil Patterson, 52.
One neighbour, Johnathan Grant, 28, said the couple were both due at a court case in August following an incident in May.
Sons: Joshua, five, (left) and Samuel, two, (right) are both believed to have been killed by their mother
Mr Grant, who has known Miss Hooper and her children for three years, said the boys were taken into care after the altercation, and stayed there for six weeks while their mother recovered.
She lost her job at a local hotel during the breakdown of the relationship, he said.
But he explained that she and the boys moved back into their home only two weeks ago, and she was just beginning to rebuild her life.
Mr Grant said: ‘She was good-looking, chatty, funny, she would play with the kids outside a lot. She was generally just a lovely lady.
‘This is a massive shock to us, it hasn’t sunk in yet. They were very sweet, very well behaved boys.’
He added: ‘I am horrified what has happened. Kat could not drive so I don’t know how she got up to Haytor with Joshy. It’s a mystery.
‘Samuel was meant to be starting his first day at the local nursery yesterday. The boys were lovely and played with my girls. Kat was bubbly and laughing and had come out of her shell.’
His partner Tracey Cole, 42, described how Miss Hooper had struggled financially. She said: ‘Kat did not have a lot of money and she asked me if I could look after her cat as she could not afford to keep it.’
The tragedy unfolded at 11.50am on Haytor as temperatures rose to close to 30C at the tourist spot
Haytor, a steep granite tor, is considered Dartmoor’s most famous site and is popular with coach parties, walkers and sightseers.
During the 19th century steps were cut into one side of the tor and a metal handrail fixed to allow tourists easier access to the summit.
At its highest point it reaches 1,499ft (457 metres) above sea level, providing panoramic views of the south coast, the Teign Estuary and the rolling countryside.
Mike Nendick, from the Dartmoor National Park Authority, said there had been accidents at Haytor before but they were ‘not commonplace’.
‘When you have an attractive landscape, whether it’s on the coast or moors, it attracts people. There’s always the potential for accidents,’ he added.
‘It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on the accident. But we would urge members of the public to wear sensible footwear and consider weather conditions.’
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