Man drowns while ‘trying to hide from police’ during night out

A man drowned while allegedly trying to hide in a river in a bid to escape from a police officer giving chase, an inquest heard.

Cameron Whelan, 26, died after leaping into the River Avon near to Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warks, on May 25 last year.

An inquest heard he waded in waist deep before disappearing under the water and did not resurface as he was followed by an officer.

His body was found downriver by police divers four days later, Warwickshire Justice Centre was told on Tuesday.

Mr Whelan, of Moseley, Birmingham, had been out on a Friday night in the historic town when police were called to an incident outside a McDonald's restaurant.

He was then followed by an officer as he made his way along the riverside bank near to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre before jumping in the water.

Witnesses said it appeared Mr Whelan was trying to hide from the policeman who was shouting at him: "Mate, come back. Come on".

Maria Purdy told the hearing she had been watching swans by the river with her husband on their first wedding anniversary when they heard shouting.

She said: "We were not really sure what it was about. Then a gentleman passed behind us who was shouting something.

"We were facing the river, and I didn't pay too much attention to him at that moment.

"We just thought it was a drunk man shouting to his friends. The man wasn't running, but it was a fast walk.

"A few seconds later the police officer appeared from the left as well.

"The police officer was running, and ran behind us in the same direction. That was the first time we started to pay a bit more attention.

"There was some hedging by the pathway. Then we heard more shouting. We looked at each-other and thought 'should we make sure everything's ok?'

"As we approached, the gentleman who had run past us was already in the water. He was wading in. He was up to his waist or chest area.

"I could certainly see the top of his body, because he had a white t-shirt on.

"The officer was shouting at the man to get out of the water and come back. He was saying 'Mate, come back. Come on.'

"He said it over and over, but the man in the water wasn't paying any attention. The man was still wading in.

"The man just continued to enter the water as the police officer was shouting at him to come back."

Warwickshire assistant coroner Jason Pegg, asked: "Did the man in the water say anything?"

Mrs Purdy replied: "Nothing. We were also shouting at him to come back."

She said that as the man, Mr Whelan, got deeper into the water he changed from wading to "a bit more of a swim," doing something"'like a doggy-paddle."

Asked whether it appeared he could swim, she answered: "Yes, at that point he didn't look like he was struggling, not at any point.

"Then he was almost to the middle, and in a split second he kind of disappeared under the water.

"He didn't ask for assistance, and there was no splashing.

"There was no evidence he was in any distress, and then he disappeared under the water. It was all kind of calm.

"The officer had stopped shouting and was keeping an eye on him.

"Once he went under the water we continued to watch the river because we weren't sure whether he was trying to hide from the policeman, whether he was trying to get into the reeds by the river, and whether he had gone under intentionally.

"We weren't sure whether he was going to resurface or hide. He was trying to escape from the police officer.

"I didn't see him enter the water, but judging from how far he was in, I assume he was trying to hide."

She was asked whether she thought Mr Whelan dived into the water and said: "No, it was such a calm way he went under, as though it may have been he was tired."

She said the officer had asked her husband to try to find a life-ring, but he couldn't find one.

She told the inquest she didn't think the officer was "aggressive" to the man in the water and added: "He was just asking him to come back, I guess trying to reason with him."

The inquest continues.

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