Teen’s Drowning: Inquest Blames Police Neglect

An inquest jury has found that Hampshire police officers took “insufficient action” to save 15-year-old Marcel Wochna, who tragically drowned while attempting to evade arrest by jumping into the River Itchen on November 8, 2021. Marcel’s body was discovered two days later, sparking an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.

According to a report from The Telegraph on Wednesday, September 13, 2023, The incident unfolded near Southampton’s Cobden Bridge, where Marcel and a friend had sneaked out of their homes to smoke before embarking on a small wooden boat near Smith’s Quay. Their escapade was cut short when police officers, PC William Chan and PC Keely Miles, were alerted to their presence, eventually leading to Marcel’s fateful jump into the river, fully clothed.

During the inquest at Winchester Coroner’s Court, PC Chan revealed that he did not attempt to follow Marcel into the water because he considered himself “not a strong swimmer.” The jury acknowledged that Marcel had jumped into the river voluntarily but criticized the officers’ immediate response to the situation, stating that their “insufficient immediate action” likely contributed to Marcel’s untimely death.

The jury also raised concerns over the Hampshire police force’s “inadequate knowledge” of working near water. In a statement, the jury forewoman expressed, “Marcel’s death was contributed to by neglect.”

Coroner Jason Pegg announced that he would be sending a formal report to Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary, demanding a response within 56 days. Among the concerns outlined in the report was a “lack of awareness” of cold water shock among officers and the police marine unit’s “shout, reach, throw, row, and go” procedure for water-related incidents. Additionally, the use of handcuffs near water was called into question.

Marcel’s mother, Beata, spoke following the conclusion of the inquest, describing her son’s death as “completely devastating” and expressing her belief that Marcel might have survived if the officers had taken action to help him. She also lamented the lack of an apology from Hampshire Constabulary for their perceived failings.

Hampshire Constabulary had referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) following Marcel’s tragic death. The IOPC’s investigation determined that PC Chan and PC Miles “acted appropriately by swiftly calling for police resources and other agencies to help with a search for Marcel.” However, they acknowledged the inquest jury’s finding of “insufficient action” by the attending officers and pledged to review whether this would impact their findings.

Ch Supt Paul Southey, from Hampshire Constabulary, expressed condolences for the tragic incident and noted that the force was already in the process of reviewing its policies and training related to working near water. They also vowed to implement any relevant recommendations following the coroner’s written report.

Marcel’s untimely death serves as a somber reminder of the importance of prompt and well-informed actions by law enforcement officers when responding to incidents near water, and the inquest findings are likely to influence police procedures in the future. Marcel’s family, while mourning their loss, hopes that lessons learned from this tragedy will prevent others from experiencing similar heartache.

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