River safety expert calls for changes at teenager's inquest

Adrian Williams

Adrian Williams

River safety expert calls for raft of changes at drowned teen's inquest

Experts on water safety called for more safety measures to be introduced by landowners during an inquest into the death of  teenager Jordan Veira.

The inquest into the death of the 15-year-old – who drowned after he got into difficulty in the water near Bourne End in May – was held today (Thursday).

As part of proceedings, Steve Collins, head of unit at the Kingston Maritime Voluntary Service (a charity that works to promote safety on the Thames) gave his opinion on what needs to change to prevent future incidents.

The day that Jordan was seen disappearing below the surface of the water, May 31, it was about 25 degrees outside. River temperatures remained at 16 degrees.

This temperature is one degree above the threshold for ‘high risk’ of cold-water shock.

“These things are predictable,” Mr Collins said. “There’s a direct relationship to the weather. My heart drops each time I hear there’s going to be a (hot spell).

“On days when there are lots of children at the river, we have spoken to them about the dangers. But the temptation for them to jump in is irresistible.

“Very often, children ignore our advice. They will ask, ‘Where are the signs?’” Mr Collins said.

Senior coroner for Berkshire, Heidi Connor, noted that the river does not appear especially dangerous.

“There’s nothing to indicate that there’s a deep bit further in, and there are no warning signs at the scene at all,” she said. “There was nothing in that area to indicate the risk.”

“My understanding is that it’s the landowner’s responsibility to put up those signs,” Mr Collins said.

He added that there should have been a throw rope nearby – a buoyant rope of about 20-25 metres that is light enough to be easily thrown to someone far away.

Another option, he said, is a string of buoys which indicate the deepest part of the water.

It was determined that installing these would be the responsibility of the National Trust, which owns the land where Jordan drowned.

Despite suggesting these measures, Mr Collins added that the best solution would be to have ‘qualified and equipped’ lifeguards on the banks and in boats.

However, Sibongile Veira, Jordan’s mother, expressed her opinion on the importance of signage or other visual cues.

“If I see a sign (indicating) the dip in the water and I can see that anyone else’s children are going in, I would say, ‘Be careful,’” she said.

Concerns were also raised that risk assessments for the water are not dynamic, reflecting changes such as increased water levels from rain.

One issue is that not everyone in the water looks to be in trouble. At the inquest, a witness statement described seeing Jordan in the water but thought that he ‘looked calm’.

“There’s a common misconception of someone in trouble waving their hands in the air,” said Mr Collins. “Usually, you can only see their head.”

In the next part of the inquest, a representative from the National Trust – the landowners – spoke about the measures it would consider to prevent further incidents. [LINK]

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