Safety summit highlights ‘dangerous mix of alcohol and rivers’

The confluence of the Ouse and Foss in York. Inset: Ben Clarkson and Megan Roberts. Main photograph © Bing Maps
26 Mar 2014 @ 2.54 pm
| Environment
The confluence of the Ouse and Foss in York. Inset: Ben Clarkson and Megan Roberts. Main photograph © Bing Maps
The confluence of the Ouse and Foss in York. Inset: Ben Clarkson and Megan Roberts. Main photograph © Bing Maps

An action plan to make York’s rivers safer is on its way following a summit held in the wake of the devastating deaths of Megan Roberts and Ben Clarkson.

Called by North Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Julia Mulligan, the River Safety Summit took place on Tuesday evening (March 25) at York St John University.

Megan, 20, was studying fine art at the university, and Ben, 22, was a student there in 2010.

Ben’s body was recovered from the Foss on March 21, while Megan’s body was found in the Ouse a few weeks earlier. Both died after nights out in York.

The summit brought together many organisations with an active interest in river safety, alcohol misuse and vulnerability, with the aim of minimising the chances of similar incidents in future.

These included City of York Council, the city’s universities and students’ unions, emergency services and voluntary groups.

Statements from Megan and Ben’s families were read out at the start of the meeting.

Prevention and education

Discussions focused on prevention and education. An action plan is to be developed.

The summit discussed a new campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of York’s rivers, and how all the agencies can work together to provide the right messages, at the right times, and to the right people.

“I can only speak for myself, but I feel we now have momentum behind a clear agenda for change and some specific actions to develop, in addition to the good work already underway,” said police commissioner Julia Mulligan.

“In the last 15 years, there have been at least 25 river deaths in York and recent tragedies have called the issue into sharp focus.

“I am therefore encouraged that there was agreement on the need to develop a city-wide campaign about the dangerous mix of alcohol and rivers in particular.”

Better training

Another proposal would see a consistent package of training so active in the night-time economy – including police officers, door staff and taxi drivers – can spot and support vulnerable people.

The council is undertaking a river risk assessment to consider if new safety measures are needed.

“Having met the partner of one of those who has fallen victim to our rivers, I know they are adamant something positive needs to come out of their sadness,” said Ms Mulligan.

“I very much welcome the chance to work with victims’ families, as well as the commitment given by partners such as the City of York and others to turn our words into actions.”