Coroner Praises Public After Man Dies In Floods In Walsall

9 July 2018, 16:07

Black Country Coroners Court

A coroner has praised the public for trying to help a man who died in floods near Walsall.

82-year-old Peter Harnwell - who was a retired photographer - may have been taking pictures of stormy conditions on the night he died in Rushall, near Walsall, the Black Country Coroner's Court was told.

The pensioner, from Evesham in Worcestershire, was pulled clear of his Fiat camper van after a highways worker, a police officer and local resident Oliver Rowan entered floodwaters underneath a railway bridge.

Senior Black Country Coroner Zafar Siddique was told that a hammer was used to rip the fabric of the submerged van's pop-up roof, allowing Mr Harnwell to be pulled clear of the water.

In a written statement to the inquest, Mr Rowan told how he managed to get onto the bonnet and then the roof of the van, which had entered the water at about 20mph.

Describing the incident, Mr Rowan said: "I shouted to the man in the van to get out as it was only submerged up to the headlights. I could see him trying to steer the van and at this point the van was starting to fill."

After dialling 999, the inquest heard, Mr Rowan was joined by a highways worker who had been distributing sandbags in the early hours of May 28.

"I went into the water with him. We tried to smash the windows with a hammer but by now the van was fully submerged. I did what I could under the circumstances," Mr Rowan said.

Another witness, who was riding a motorcycle, said Mr Harnwell's van entered the water at 10-15mph and seemed to slow down before "drifting" towards the bridge at about 2am.

Mr Harnwell was also said to have opened the driver's door, before closing it again.

The coroner, who commended Mr Rowan for coming to the aid of the driver, recorded a conclusion of misadventure after hearing that adequate signage and another already-stranded vehicle had warned motorists approaching the floodwaters.

Mr Siddique said of the rescue and resuscitation attempts by local residents and emergency crews: "Sadly, despite their attempts, Mr Harnwell was pronounced dead (in hospital) shortly after 4am.

"It may well have been that the reason he was out that morning was to perhaps take some pictures of the storm as it unfolded."

Offering his condolence to Mr Harnwell's family, the coroner added: "I am satisfied that there was clear signage and also it was apparent that another vehicle had been abandoned, suggesting the water was extremely deep.

"It's clear he took a calculated risk when he travelled into the water but sadly, that ultimately resulted in his death. It was an act he did intentionally but he didn't intend the outcome."