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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Stephanie Wareham (PA) & Ellie Kemp

Four boys died after falling into frozen lake after feeding ducks and skimming stones, inquest heard

Police officers formed a human chain and entered a freezing lake against medical advice to try and save four boys who had fallen into icy water, an inquest into their deaths has heard.

Brothers Samuel Butler, six, and Finlay Butler, eight, their cousin Thomas Stewart, 11, and Jack Johnson, 10, had been “playing” on the frozen Babbs Mill Lake, in Kingshurst, Solihull, near Birmingham, on December 11 2022 before the ice fragmented and they fell through. An inquest at Birmingham and Solihull Coroner’s Court in Birmingham on Friday (July 7) heard emotional family tributes to the four boys, who died in hospital after they were rescued from the water by firefighters.

The boys had been at the lake in two separate groups, with Jack and other children initially going to skim stones before heading out onto the ice, and Fin, Sam and Tom intending to feed bread to the ducks. The court heard Fin fell in first, with Tom and Jack going to help but falling in themselves. It is thought Sam fell as he rushed to help.

Jack and Tom both died at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital on December 11, while Fin and Sam both died at Birmingham Children’s Hospital on December 12 and December 14 respectively. Detective Inspector James Edmonds from West Midlands Police described how officers first arrived on the scene at 2.43pm after receiving multiple 999 calls, the first coming in at 2.34pm.

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Despite advice not to enter the water because of the effect the cold would have on them, the officers decided to form a human chain from the edge of the bank to try and reach the area where they believed the boys had fallen in, taking off their belts and body armour and using their fists and batons to break through the ice.

DI Edmonds said: “The boys were not visible as they were under the water. Officers made the decision to enter the lake. They formed a human chain and tried to reach the location they thought the boys had gone under. The medical advice would have been not to go in, but our main duty is to save life and limb.”

Babbs Mill Lake in Solihull (Martin O'Callaghan / Birmingham Live)

He explained how the officers tried their best to reach the boys, with one of the officers up to their chin in freezing cold water, but the water was too deep to get to them. He said: “The air temperature that day was five degrees, so the water would have been much colder than that.

"Despite their best efforts, they were simply unable to reach the area. The physical impact on the officers was quite significant in terms of their body temperature.”

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While no-one witnessed Sam fall in the water, DI Edmonds said “the assumption is that he had rushed towards the danger to help”.

West Midlands Fire Service arrived on the scene at 2.50pm and specially-trained officers entered the water to find the boys, with Jack, Tom and Sam found under the water at 2.56pm and Fin found at 3.05pm. Alex Shapland, head of response, fire control and emergency planning, said technical rescue officers entered the “extremely cold” water immediately upon arrival.

Tributes left at the scene around Babbs Mill (Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live)

He told the inquest: “When you enter water of that temperature, your body goes into shock and it is very difficult to function, especially in a limited amount of clothes.”

Jason Wiles, consultant paramedic at West Midlands Ambulance Service, said Tom, Jack and Sam would have been under the water for approximately 22 minutes, while Fin was under for 32 minutes. When they were recovered from the water, all four boys were taken to two hospitals in Birmingham, where CPR was continued and attempts were made to try and warm them up.

The inquest heard Jack’s core temperature on arrival at hospital was 27.3 degrees, Tom’s 24.8 degrees, Fin’s 24 degrees and Sam’s 24.3 degrees. Despite efforts to give the boys CPR lasting hours, all four died as a result of the incident.

Senior coroner Louise Hunt ruled their deaths were an “awful, tragic accident” and said West Midlands Police, West Midlands Ambulance Service and West Midlands Fire, as well as the NHS, all did their best in the situation. She said: “There really is only one conclusion, that this was an awful, tragic accident.

"The emergency services undertook considerable efforts to try and save them. Everyone involved did all they could to help the boys and they should be commended for their actions.”

Addressing members of Jack’s family, who had attended the inquest, Mrs Hunt added: “I offer my condolences to all of you here today, other members of your family and the families that are not here today. The death of the boys is a devastating tragedy and it is difficult for us to comprehend how you must feel.

"I hope today has been able to answer some questions, but it cannot take away your pain, I realise that.”

Tributes were read out to each of the boys at the beginning of the inquest. Jack was described as an “amazing soul who did everything he could to make people smile”. Tom “always had a smile on his face”, Fin was “full of character and adored the outdoors”, and Sam had an “infectious laugh”.

Speaking after the inquest, Mr Shapland said he wished the “outcome could have been different” and with the summer holidays approaching, urged parents to warn their children of the dangers of entering open water.

He said: “Even in the summer, as tempting as it may be, open water can kill. Know the dangers. Tell your children.”

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