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Calls for an inquiry after a series of deaths in York's rivers

Five people have died in the rivers of York within the last month, leading York Central MP Rachael Makell to call for an inquiry into river safety.

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Image Credit: Tim Green

Tragedy has again struck the city after a staggering five deaths in our city’s river so far this month. The victims are aged from 19-70. This is becoming an all too familiar story following a number of deaths in recent years. This has led to the family of one of the victims, Sonny Ferry, 19, to launch a campaign to fund a new rescue boat. In addition to this the York Central MP, Rachael Maskell, has called for an inquiry into river safety.

Three out of the five victims have now been named. The body of missing York resident Lee Everett, 48 was recovered on 6 April. The body of a woman in her 70s was recovered on 12 April. Sonny Ferry from Rutland was on a night out and fell into the river on 14 April. Steven O’Neil, 29, from Merseyside died on 20 April after being involved in a police foot chase.

The North Yorkshire Police have been referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct over O’Neil’s death as part of routine procedure for all deaths involving the police. Sadly, on the morning of 26 April, the body of an elderly woman was recovered from the River Ouse. She has yet to be formally identified.

The family of Sonny Ferry have launched a campaign to fund a new rescue boat. They aim to raise £45 000 to fund a new rescue boat fitted with a sonar system to map the river, among other safety features. Currently, the rescue boat does not have the space for rescuers to perform “potentially lifesaving procedures” on anyone they pull from the rivers. The other safety features the fundraising campaign hope to equip the boat with include a new radio system alongside typical safety equipment such as lifebuoys and throwlines.

The York Rescue Boat is a search and rescue charity that started in 2014 after several river deaths. The rescue boat is operated by volunteers who are only provided with helmets as protective gear. The appeal managed to raise nearly £1 500 in the first day after it launched.

In an emotional message the Ferry family said: “Our sweet precious boy is safe now, no longer is he lost in the dark, he is no longer frightened, he is no longer so very cold, or in any pain, he is no longer screaming for help, and he is no longer gasping for air, it is for every other child, every precious person still breathing we need to do this.”

After meeting with the Ferry family, the York Central MP, Rachael Maskell, speaking to the Yorkshire post said; “Following a tragic fortnight on the river, I am calling for a new inquiry into river safety in York, involving all the relevant agencies, so that residents and visitors can be kept safe by the water.”

She praised the Ferry family for launching their campaign and urged residents to support the York Rescue Boat charity. She added: “Kate and Stephen Ferry want to partner with residents across York and Sonny’s friends in supporting York Rescue Boat and to see improvements in river safety.”

In response, Tom Brittain, City of York Council’s assistant director for community safety, said: “Our sincere sympathies go to the families affected by the recent river fatalities.

“While placing railings along the entire length of York’s rivers is not practical, given that much of the land is in private ownership, we continue to work proactively to improve river safety in the city centre and to ensure that appropriate preventative measures are taken.”

The council reviewed in 2014 to improve river safety and Mr Brittain said the York Rescue Boat and vigilance of door staff of riverside businesses have been “extremely successful in preventing potential fatalities”.

In response to the recent deaths Union President, James Durcan, attended a water safety meeting and the University will be sending a representative to the river safety forum meeting as it regularly does. This is all part of the University’s efforts to keep students safe.

If you wish to share or support the campaign to fund a new rescue boat, you can find it here:www.gofundme.com/the-sunshine-campaign.

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