Sunday 20 May 2018

Coroner appeals against vandalism of lifesaving equipment following death of tragic Caolan Webster (15), inquest hears

Caolan Webster, inset, who died after getting into difficulty swimming on a stretch of the Shannon river near the Athlone Sub Aqua clubhouse
Caolan Webster, inset, who died after getting into difficulty swimming on a stretch of the Shannon river near the Athlone Sub Aqua clubhouse

Louise Roseingrave

A coroner appealed against the vandalism of lifesaving equipment following the death of a teen who drowned in the River Shannon.

Caolan Seoige Webster (15) of St Patrick’s Terrace, Athlone, Co Westmeath died on June 11 2015.

Described as a happy, sensitive teenager who adored football, Caolan had been swimming with friends at Jim’s Field in Athlone town, close to the Athlone Sub Aqua Club.

He began to struggle while swimming with friends but when they ran for a lifebuoy it was missing, an inquest into his death head.

“I would appeal to anyone that doesn’t think ahead as to what the consequences might be. It is very regrettable that this equipment is vandalised or removed for whatever reasons people do such things,” Coroner Dr Crona Gallagher said.

Returning a verdict of accidental death at a resumed inquest into Caolan’s death, the coroner said even experienced swimmers can experience shock when they enter cold water.

Caolan was found at the bottom of the river at a depth of 3 metres. The water temperature was 11 degrees.

“I saw him go under and come back up a few times and then he went under and didn’t come back up. It all happened in less than a minute,” one of the young group of swimmers said. The location is next to a playground and is a popular swimming spot in the summer.

Enda Hanafee, Health and Safety Officer with Westmeath County Council said the area is not a designated bathing area and therefore there are no warning signs despite a known strong current in the area.

Mr Hanafee said more stringent checks had been introduced to monitor ringbuoys since the accident, with daily checks of equipment at beaches with lifeguards, weekly checks in towns and monthly checks in rural areas.

He said the council had never been requested to assess water safety in that location and the council would have acted if they had been made aware.

The lifebuoys in place next to the playground were checked on May 19, one was missing and it was replaced on May 28. "Less than 5pc in a year are missing, there are generally in place,” Mr Hanafee said.

Dr Gallagher said while the local authority was fully compliant with the standards required of it at the time she would write to the council requesting an assessment and the  possible installation of warning signs at Jim's Field in view of Caolan’s tragic death.

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