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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Stephanie Wareham

Frozen lake deaths: Police formed human chain to reach boys who fell into icy water, inquest hears

Police officers formed a human chain and entered a freezing lake against medical advice to try and save four boys who had fallen into the 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 heard emotional family tributes to the four boys, who died in hospital after they were rescued from the water by firefighters.

Jack and Thomas both died at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital on December 11, while Finlay and Samuel 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.

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, 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.”

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.”

West Midlands Fire Service arrived on the scene at 2.50pm and specially-trained officers entered the water to find the boys, with Jack, Thomas and Samuel found under the water at 2.56pm and Finlay found 3.05pm, before they were taken to hospital.

Senior coroner Louise Hunt ruled all four boys died as a result of an “awful, tragic accident”.

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