08:23PM, Thursday 04 November 2021
RBWM has put up some signs adjacent to the River Thames in light of Jordan Veira’s tragic death earlier this year. River Thames, Bourne End
The National Trust has said that it will ‘consider’ installing river safety signs on its land in Cock Marsh to prevent more young people from getting into trouble in the water.
At the inquest of Jordan Veira, who drowned in the summer near Boulters Lock, a representative of the National Trust was called as a witness regarding the trust’s actions going forward.
Robert Miles, general manager of the Cliveden estate, said that the trust carries out annual risk assessments of Cock Marsh, using risk specialists.
Though he said that installing warning signs by the riverside was a possibility, Mr Miles said that there was a ‘natural tension’ between the trust’s duty to preserve the land for everyone to enjoy, and protecting the safety of those on it.
For example, he said, one issue is access – deciding what to do about access to the water on land which is open to all.
“The balance is not always easy,” he said. “We might not always do the best thing, and we hold up our hands to that.”
Mr Miles added to this scepticism about the efficacy of installing signs. He indicated that it would be better to guide people away from wild swimming where possible, using education in schools.
“The problem is you end up with signs everywhere about everything,” he said.
“We need to be very careful about putting up signage and thinking that the job is done. It’s a much deeper problem than that.”
Mr Miles added that, while there are responsible bodies protecting people swimming in the sea, inland the matter is ‘more nuanced and difficult’.
“There are a lot of places like this all along the Thames and they all have exactly the same issue,” he said. “There’s been an explosion in wild swimming since lockdown.
“There are certain people who have a duty of care (to those swimming in the sea) and I don’t see anything similar for inland waterways. I think that’s something worth looking into.”
Mr Miles expressed uncertainty over the idea of installing buoys in the water to mark out where it becomes deep – an idea raised during the inquest.
“It would make it look like a place where people can swim,” he said. “I think we need to be encouraging people not to get in the water at all.”
However, Sibongile Veira, Jordan’s mother, did not think this was realistic.
“This is a beach area – it is known as a beach locally,” she said.
Senior coroner for Berkshire, Heidi Connor, intervened at this point, saying:
“It’s tempting, when something like this tragic happens, to throw everything into (the problem) – but there is a need for proportionality.
“It’s right that we raise these issues but I’m not expecting any of the witnesses to come up with a solution in the heat of the moment.
“We’re not going to achieve a firm decision (on safety measures) today.”
Mr Miles said to Jordan’s family: “I can promise you that we will be doing everything we can to make (the area) as safe as possible.”
Despite hearing that the trust is ‘good at assessing risk’, the family raised doubts.
News of Jordan’s death did not reach the correct people at the trust until October, the court heard – such delays would affect how swiftly the trust can react, family members said.
Father Shaun Veira expressed ‘shock’ at the lack of coordination.
Concerns were raised, too, that this was not an isolated incident. That day, Jordan was not the only one who got into trouble in the water – one of his friends also did, but survived.
“We need to be able to foresee things like this,” said Mrs Veira.
“I’m not asking for promises, but an indication that something is going to be done. Look after your visitors. At least then you can say you tried,” she said.
Mr Veira added: “If you put up one sign, you can save one life. Doesn’t that make a difference?”
Mr Miles offered for the family to be involved in the new risk assessment for the site.
“Hopefully that will reassure you that we are taking this seriously – we want to make sure we do the right thing,” he said.
Ms Connor told the inquest that she would be making a Regulation 28 report which will ‘recognise the future risk of death’.
This will be sent to various bodies, including the Royal Life Saving Society and similar organisations, who can then decide the best course to prevent further incidents.
Those receiving the report must respond in 56 days – however, Mrs Connor said she would consider extending the timeframe to ‘get this right’.
She added that she hopes that the regional issues at least, such as signage on land, can be examined within this time limit.
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