A MAN disappeared under water ‘in a split second’ after wading into the Avon in Stratford as he was being followed by a police officer.
Cameron Whelan, from Moseley, Birmingham, did not come back to the surface – and his body was found down-river four days later, the jury at the inquest into his death has heard.
The 26-year-old had been enjoying a Friday night out in Stratford on May 25 last year when, it was reported at the time, police were called to an incident outside the McDonalds restaurant.
After that, he was being followed by a police officer as he made his way along the bank of the Avon from Waterside, and went into the river where he drowned.
Witness Maria Purdy, answering questions from assistant coroner Jason Pegg, said she and her husband were in Stratford to celebrate their first wedding anniversary.
They were by the river watching the swans when they heard some shouting.
“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. He was not paying any attention.
“The man just continued to enter the water as the police officer was shouting at him to come back.”
Mr 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 as 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.”
Asked by the assistant coroner what she though the man was doing, Mrs Purdy said: “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 when Mr Whelan went under the water she could see his legs, as if he was diving, but replied: “No, it was such a calm way he went under, as though it may have been he was tired.”
In response to questions from solicitors, Mrs Purdy said the officer had asked her husband to try to find a life-ring, but he had been unable to find one.
And asked about the demeanour of the officer towards the man in the water, she described: “It was fine, nothing aggressive. He was just asking him to come back, I guess trying to reason with him.”
The jury has heard that following a search by police divers, Mr Whelan’s body was finally found down-river on Tuesday May 29. The inquest continues.