Inquest hears of tragic death on the Thames

River Thames in Kingston claims another victim after all day drinking, coroner hears.

Laurence Newman, 45, a property developer from Surbiton, had been drinking most of the day at the Gazebo pub before trying to swim across the river at approximately 7:50pm, on July 30 2011, egged on by a crowd of onlookers.

Witnesses told Kingston’s coroners court that Mr Newman appeared to be making good progress across the river until he suddenly slipped under the water following a short struggle.

Philip Green was passing by the area when he noticed a large crowd on the Kingston side of the river and saw Mr Newman go under. He jumped in the river to rescue Mr Newman but despite diving beneath the surface he couldn’t find Mr Newman in the murky and fast-flowing water.

Coroner Alison Thompson said: “Philip Green was a hero, going into the water. I think you’ll all agree that it was a brave thing to enter the water there. A difficult thing to do.”

A passing boat joined Mr Green in the rescue effort and together they were able to find Mr Newman beneath the water and bring him to shore.  

Mr Newman’s mother, Pamela Newman, told Coroner Thompson that her son was “a strong swimmer. He loved to swim”.

When the rapid response ambulance arrived at 8:05pm, police officers were already attempting CPR on Mr Newman, but there was no response at all from Mr Newman. He had been under water for over 5 minutes at least, according to witnesses.

Claudia Lloyd, waitress at the Bishop out of Residence, a pub neighbouring the Gazebo, said: “It was very scary when they took the body out of the water and you could literally see four people from the ambulance trying to bring him back. It was very in your face, to see someone just lying there.”

Mr Newman was taken to Kingston Hospital where he died despite prolonged efforts to resuscitate him.

A former co-worker of Mr Newman’s, at the Slug and Lettuce pub, said: “He was a great guy, a hard worker. He’s sorely missed by everyone.”

Coroner Thompson and Inspector Caroline Newman, giving evidence at the inquest, both emphasised the deceptive danger of the River Thames, especially near the string of waterfront pubs where the river passes beneath Kingston Bridge.

Inspector Newman said: “I don’t think people appreciate how dangerous the current is. Sadly, people go under the water, and they stay under, very quickly. It’s the drinking by the river that is the dangerous thing.”

The combination of summer weather and riverside pubs leads to tragedy regularly in Kingston and Richmond, said Inspector Newman. “I deal with one [swimmer] a week. It’s very regular. In fact the railings around the bridge were placed as the result of another tragedy.”

A scheme called “Riverwatch” in Kingston is responsible for river safety but it is a difficult job to stop people from believing that it might be a good idea to jump in the river when they’re having a good time.

Mr Newman’s mother, speaking at her son’s inquest, wanted something to be done to prevent future tragedies. She asked why there were not more signs posted in and around the riverside pubs warning that the river had caused deaths in the past.

Coroner Thompson recorded a verdict of misadventure and immersion, on March 13, as the cause of death for Mr Newman. She noted that alcohol, the strong current and cold water contributed to his death.

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