5 December 2019

Before HM Assistant Coroner for Warwickshire Jason Pegg
Warwickshire Coroner’s Court
18 – 22 November 2019

Cameron Whelan was pursued by Warwickshire police on 25 May 2018 and entered the water of the river Avon. His body was found four days later. The inquest concluded on 22 November 2019, with the jury finding his death was ‘misadventure’ caused by injuries consistent with drowning. Despite the serious concerns of the family, no critical findings were noted by the jury in their narrative.

Cameron was a 26 year old mixed-race man from Winson Green, Birmingham. He had taken a horticultural course in the hope of opening his own landscape gardening business and had dreams of marrying his girlfriend and starting his own family.

Following the inquest conclusion, the family of Cameron Wheelan said: "We have been left devastated by the jury's decision. People seem to be unaware that drowning can be a silent killer, with no splashing or shouting for help.

During the inquest, it broke our heart all over again to find out that there was lifesaving equipment nearby at the Royal Shakespeare Company, yet staff were unaware of this. Nonetheless from the evidence we read and heard, we doubt anyone would have attempted to use it.

We believe that there has been a clear lack of candour from the start, which fed into the investigation process, which resulted in a lot of unanswered questions, and brought about an inquest process we believe has been unfair in limiting the questions we could ask witnesses.

Cameron was a caring and thoughtful young man, who often put other's needs before his own.  He was a huge part of our family and will be forever missed. We owe it to Cameron to seek justice for him and we will not rest until important questions are answered. We wish to ensure that another family does not have to suffer our fate in suffering the unnecessary death of a loved one. Or should one occur, does not suffer in navigating a restrictive Coronial process, keeping them at arm’s length from uncovering the full circumstances of a loved one’s death."

Cameron had been out on a Friday night in Stratford-upon-Avon town centre with friends, when at 9.30pm local police received reports of an incident in which a man had been assaulted. There was also mention of a knife being present.  A Special Constable (a voluntary police officer with the same powers and training as regular officers) and Police Constable (PC) attended the scene. The PC approached Cameron and grabbed him, believing he matched the description of the perpetrator. Cameron ran off and was pursued on foot by the Special Constable. The PC returned to the police vehicle, in an attempt to cut off Cameron’s route.

CCTV footage shows Cameron initially running, then walking by the river as the Special Constable jogged after him, his belt dropping off two to three times in the process. Cameron stopped a short distance from the officer and stood by the riverbank. The Special Constable approached Cameron and drew PAVA, an incapacitant spray. He told the inquest that Cameron responded by telling him to “fuck off” and turned and walked into the river near the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre.

The Special Constable did not follow Cameron into the water but shouted for him to come back to the river bank. He told the inquest it would have been a risk to himself to enter the water, and that he could not have removed and left his belt unattended as it contained police equipment. He also stated that if he did have lifesaving equipment, there could be a risk he would be pulled into the river himself. The superintendent of the police force told the inquest that it is possible for officers to leave equipment unattended in certain circumstances, however he was confident that his officer undertook the necessary dynamic risk assessments.

The Special Constable told the inquest he believed there was a specialist water kit in the police car but did not request that this was brought by the PC, who was on the other side of the river searching for Cameron who he believed may have exited the river. The PC did not attend to give evidence to the inquest as he was on holiday, but the coroner decided it was appropriate to continue despite this.

The inquest heard that the Special Constable did not believe Cameron was intoxicated. However, a witness at the scene who was an off-duty police officer of 12 years gave evidence that Cameron appeared to be “walking all over the place, looked to be under the influence of drink or drugs”. The toxicology report found Cameron had alcohol levels left in his body that were around two and a half times the drink driving limit, as well as prescribed medication and evidence that he had recently used cannabis.

The off-duty police officer said he witnessed Cameron wading, not swimming, into the water and that Cameron did not respond to the officer’s shouts. This witness was told to go look for a life ring, but only found an empty stand with no ring in it. The off duty officer approached staff at the nearby theatre and asked whether they had lifesaving equipment to assist, but none were aware of any. The inquest heard from the Royal Shakespeare Company that in fact there was equipment just behind them.

The wife of the off-duty officer also witnessed Cameron entering the water, wading and then “doggy paddling”, appearing to be out of his depth. When her husband went off to search for lifesaving equipment, she saw Cameron disappearing under the water. She said he did not appear distressed, but calmly went under as if tired. Another witness saw Cameron enter the water, attempting to swim but unable to do so, his arms waving before he was seen disappearing under the water. A further witness also saw this and said Cameron’s swimming appeared strange and uncoordinated, “not like proper swimming”.

The inquest jury’s narrative conclusion gave a brief overview of the events, noting that when Cameron entered the water he “began to swim an unrecognisable stroke with no sign of distress.” They found there was no obvious evidence to suggest Cameron was intoxicated to the point of impairing his physical ability. Noting, “There was no clear indication that Cameron wanted assistance. During this time a witness sought life saving equipment as a contingency plan. Cameron went under the water surface and resurfaced before disappearing from view.” They concluded this was the moment when he lost his life. Cameron’s body was found in the water four days later.

Shelley Peynado-Clarke of Tuckers Solicitors, who represents the family, said:The family were very disappointed with the outcome of Inquest. Cameron’s death was wholly avoidable and although changes have been implemented by the Royal Shakespeare Company, we believe there is a real risk that deaths in similar circumstances may recur. This can only be addressed by the introduction of laws compelling the provision of lifesaving equipment by open water and prosecutions where failings arise. Only then can the public be properly safeguarded.”


For further information, interview requests and to note your interest, please contact INQUEST Communications Team: 020 7263 1111 or email.

Cameron’s family are represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Shelley Peynado-Clarke of Tuckers Solicitors and Angelina Nicalou of One Pump Court chambers.

Other Interested persons represented were Warkwickshire Police, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Stratford District Council.

Jack Susianta, 17, drowned in a river whilst being pursued by the Metropolitan Police whilst suffering a drug induced mental health crisis, in July 2015. The inquest into his death heard Jack had jumped into the river and was able to keep his head above water for around 5 minutes, whilst officers declined to enter the water and discouraged members of the public from doing so. The inquest in 2016 concluded his death was a ‘drug related accident’. See the media release for more information.