Accidental death at Cotswold Water Park
By Court reporter | 28th July 2022
An inquest jury has concluded that the death of a fit and healthy 21-year-old man who drowned in a lake where swimming was not permitted at the Cotswold Water Park three years ago was accidental.
The coroner who conducted the inquest into the death of car mechanic Cory Nicholson, of Westerham Walk, Calne, Wiltshire, ruled that there is no need for him to issue a PFD (Prevention of Future Deaths) report because safety improvements have been made at the Water Park since the tragedy.
At the end of a two-day inquest at Gloucester on Wednesday (July 27), the jury forewoman said: "Mr Nicholson encountered difficulties whilst swimming and drowned on July 23, 2019, at the dog beach area of Lake 32 at Cotswold Water Park."
Recording the jury conclusion, Roland Wooderson, the assistant coroner for Gloucestershire, said he had considered issuing a PFD report but he added "In my opinion, it is not appropriate to make such a report. Mr Nicholson's sad death occurred a number of years ago, and since then there have been a number of changes made to the arrangements at the lake.
"The specific issues that I identified are the signage on what was previously the dog beach (where the tragedy happened and where people who went into the water were not supposed to go deeper than waist height).
"They have been repositioned and that has been the case also in other areas where recreational swimming is not permitted.
"I understand that since Mr Nicholson's sad death, the ramp giving access to the lake has since been isolated by a barrier so that it can't be accessed by the public.
"These could have been possible issues that I might have considered in the PFD report, but I am not minded to do this on the basis that changes have already been made by various bodies and organisations, and the length of time that has passed since Mr Nicholson died."
Mr Wooderson said that on behalf of the family he wanted to thank the people who had direct involvement in trying to save Cory's life - those being Becky Chapman, Liam Plunkett and David Sexton, who all did their best for Cory on the day.
"One of the men said he was a fit and strong person but was totally exhausted when he got out of the water," said the coroner.
"I have no doubt that the efforts the three of them made for Mr Nicholson's benefit were physically draining and difficult for all of them."
Mr Wooderson then offered his condolences to Mr Nicholson's family and said: "I am aware after 17 years as a coroner that anything I say can't assist the grieving process, but I feel it is appropriate."
The inquest was told that pathologist Dr Rahul Fulmani confirmed Mr Nicholson's death as having been caused by the effects of drowning due to fluid in his lungs.
He also confirmed that there were no drugs or alcohol in his body, but there was evidence of him having recently taken paracetamol.
The jury was told that at the age of 15 Mr Nicholson developed a big interest in cars. He was especially interested in custom cars and hot rods.
He decided that he wanted to become a mechanic and subsequently secured an apprenticeship with Mercedes in Swindon and when he completed this he began working at BMW before taking on a role at a farm garage.
He also enjoyed collecting things such as silver and gold and was an expert at finding bargains at car boot sales. He was a caring man who helped his family out a lot and was heavily involved at the local fire station.
Mr Nicholson enjoyed off-roading in his Jeep, and he wouldn't take risks or do anything dangerous, the inquest was told. A memorial bench has since been installed in his honour at the Sun pub, where he lived.
Mr Nicholson was taught how to swim in Cyprus when he was a toddler. During his teenage years he worked out and developed muscles making him a strong swimmer.
Mr Nicholson's family said that the effect of Cory's death had been devastating for them and they felt that had there been a sign warning of the dangers of swimming from the dog beach he wouldn't have ventured out so far.
PC Lawrie Merchant told the inquest that he identified the body of Mr Nicholson by the use of a picture of him provided by Ms Chapman who told him that he was wearing a chain around his neck and had rings on his fingers and was wearing a vest top and shorts.
Pc Neil Forsyth from the Avon and Somerset Underwater Search Team said that he was part of a five man team who attended the water park that day.
He said: "I was nominated as the diver and began searching for Mr Nicholson by conducting an arch search by the use of a line to define the parameters of the area we were looking.
"I initially found Mr Nicholson at 8.17pm. The visibility was changeable, especially when I disturbed the bottom. He was found at a depth of 4.6 metres. The water temperature was 20 degrees.
"I found him by touch as I couldn't see any distance. There was no evidence of any debris in the area."
Detective Sergeant Jonathan Williams told the inquest that he surveyed the area and observed that there were no barriers around the point of access to the lake.
He said that he was informed that the Cotswold Country Park had operating rights on the land up to the water while activities on the lake are operated by Waterland Outdoor Pursuits. He understood that lifeguards were not normally deployed in the area of the dog beach because it was not a dedicated swimming area.
Eileen Pengelly the senior environmental health officer for Cotswold District Council, said that at the time there had been signage throughout the area which banned recreational swimming. She pointed out there is a dedicated swimming area within the park that is overseen by lifeguards.
She added: "The rules surrounding people entering the water up to their waist have since been changed and that the signage is now more prominent."
The inquest had earlier heard from Ms Chapman who said that she and Mr Nicholson had gone to the water park to go paddle boarding and had decided to take her dogs for a walk while they waited for their turn.
"I took one of my dogs, Sally, to the water's edge while Cory sat with my other dog, Buster on the bank who I later saw playing fetch with a tennis ball," she said.
"Later on I saw Cory swim out towards the island and he waved at me on the bank. I thought he was messing about. He then went under the water and waved again. He indicated to me to what I thought he meant to join him. I decided to go back into the water to see what he wants.
"I started to swim out to him, it didn't look very far, but I became tired as I swam out to him. He was still waving at me. I then realised he was in trouble. I called out for help and tried to hold him up. I saw a man then get into the water and swim towards us."
The inquest heard that Liam Plunkett swam out to help and when he realised what the situation was when he approached Ms Chapman he turned to the bank and shouted in that direction, "Get help now". He then dived down in the water a couple of times but couldn't see Mr Nicholson.
David Sexton, one of the water park's life guards, who was working as an instructor at another part of the lake was having his lunch when he heard the shouts for help and swam out to the area.
Mr Sexton said: "It took me just over a minute to swim out to the woman, who I believed she was the person who needed assistance when she said, 'He's down there, he hasn't come back up'.
"At this point I dived down in the water about five metres, I was unable to reach the weeds at the bottom of the lake. I then continued to dive down a couple of times and try and feel for the missing person.
"But after a good ten minutes I decided to call off the immediate search. Once I got back to shore I instructed colleagues to call the search boat."
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