River Wear Deaths Were 'Accidental'

24 October 2013, 17:14 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50

A coroner's ruled the deaths of two schoolgirls who drowned in the River Wear were accidental.

15 year old Tonibeth Purvis tried to save her friend, 14 year old Chloe Fowler, after she got into difficulty in the river at Washington in July.

But both girls were swept away and their bodies were found later by emergency crews.

The inquest heard that, during the prolonged rescue attempt, various members of the public tried in vain to save the girls.

This included an off-duty police officer who dived into the water and two local fishermen, as well as some of the teenagers' friends.

There were also dozens of emergency service workers at the scene, including specialist dive teams, the fire brigade, a helicopter and 40 police officers.

Recording a verdict of accidental death for both girls, Coroner Derek Winter said:
"These events were traumatic and remain so. They touched the families and the whole community.

Chloe jumped into the water and got into difficulty. Then Tonibeth in a valiant attempt to try and save her also got into difficulty.

Both were overwhelmed by the river and drowned despite the efforts of friends and the rescue services.

I am so very sad about your loss.''

Detective Inspector Mark Ord of Northumbria Police described the timeline of events and said both girls were found within 100 metres of where they were last seen.

He described how, having received the initial report just before 3pm, Tonibeth was not located until 8.49pm and then Chloe at 9.57pm.

Both girls were found within 100 metres of where they were last seen.

He said:
"The river was in full flow and was a hazardous environment. It was six metres deep in the middle.

We tried desperately to find the girls.''

The hearing at Sunderland Civic Centre heard that since the incident the local authority has agreed to conduct weekly checks along the river, which rises and falls quickly with the tide.