Four little boys drowned after falling through the ice of a frozen lake where they were “playing”, an inquest hearing has been told. Siblings Samuel Butler, six, and eight-year-old Finlay Butler, eight, died along with their cousin Thomas Stewart, 11, and Jack Johnson, 10, on December 11,
They were rescued from Babbs Mill Lake, in Kingshurst, Solihull, near Birmingham, and rushed to hospital. The deaths of Finlay, Thomas and Jack were confirmed on Monday while Samuel died in hospital on Wednesday.
The inquest opening, held in Birmingham on Monday, was told how three of the boys were in the lake for 22 minutes before they were pulled from the icy waters. A fourth child was in the water for 31 minutes.
Senior Coroner for Birmingham and Solihull Louise Hunt described the circumstances as a “devastating tragedy”, as she opened and adjourned the four inquests. Earlier, she heard Jack, from Kingshurst, and Thomas, of Shard End, Birmingham, were identified by their parents at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, and the two brothers, Finlay and Samuel, also both from Kingshurst, at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
She also heard evidence from Detective Inspector Jim Edmonds, of West Midlands Police, who gave details of how people initially raised the alarm. The hearing was also told of the subsequent “heroic efforts” of the emergency services to save the boys.
Mr Edmonds said: “West Midlands Police first contact at 2.34pm on Sunday December 11, reporting four children playing on a frozen lake at Babbs Mill Park had fallen through the ice, into the water. Further calls were received from other members of the public, also reporting children had fallen in to the water, but with some variance as to the number of children involved
“Emergency services responded at pace and at arrival it became quite apparent this was a major incident and there were numerous members of the public at the location, reporting children had tragically fallen under the water.” He added the police as well as West Midlands Fire Service and West Midlands Ambulance Service attended.
Turning to the rescues, Mr Edmonds said: “The first three boys were located and brought to the bank at 2.56pm, the same day, and approximately nine minutes later a fourth was rescued from the water. Emergency CPR was performed on the children at the scene and they were taken to local hospitals where they received further treatment,” he said, adding the boys were at this stage identified.
Mr Edmonds said: “Despite the heroic efforts of everybody involved, all four boys have sadly passed away.” Jack and Thomas died later on December 11, Finlay, the next day, and his brother on December 14, he added. He added that “all children involved have been accounted for”.
“A police investigation is ongoing on behalf of the coroner to establish the facts of the boys’ attendance at the lake and also how they fell into the water,” said Mr Edmonds.
Setting an inquest to be heard on July 6, next year, Ms Hunt said: “The scope of the inquest will be to look at the circumstances leading to the deaths and the cause of death.” She added the inquest would hear a pen portrait of each little boy from a family member, overviews from each of the three emergency services involved about their responses, together with evidence of the hospital care given.
“I think, in respect, it is fair to say they very sadly died from the effect of drowning.” Having set out the initial cause of death, she added “no post-mortem would be required – to preserve the dignity and respect of each little boy”.
She addressed her closing remarks to the boys’ families, none of whom were physically present in court, and said: “I’d like to offer you all my sincere condolences. Your boys’ deaths are a devastating tragedy for you all and it is difficult for us all to comprehend the pain and grief you all must feel at this terrible time.
“In due course, I hope the inquest will help you understand what happened, including the valiant attempts by the emergency services to save the boys.” She called for the families’ privacy to be respected so they might process their loss, and be able to grieve.
At the weekend a vigil was held in memory of the youngsters. Hundreds of balloons, children's toys and flower were added to the scene.