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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Jessica Murray Midlands correspondent

River Trent: drowning of elderly couple in car ruled accidental

John and Patricia Lillistone
Witnesses said there were not able to do anything when John and Patricia Lillistone’s car entered the river Trent without stopping. Photograph: PA

The death of an elderly couple who drowned when their car was swept away in the River Trent after heavy rain last year was accidental, a coroner has ruled.

John Lillistone, 83, and his wife, Patricia, 82, could not be rescued when their car entered the water at Hoveringham, Nottinghamshire, on 1 February last year.

Rescue teams could not retrieve the car for two weeks owing to high water levels caused by weeks of heavy rain.

Nottingham’s senior coroner, Mairin Casey, said the incident was “an exceptionally rare event” and ruled out any suggestion it was a deliberate act, the BBC reported.

Witnesses said there was nothing they could do as the car left a car park and entered the water without stopping, before floating downstream and eventually disappearing underwater.

One onlooker, John Chell, said: “It didn’t appear to slow down, there were no brake lights. I didn’t hear any shouting, no sound from the car. I thought that was really strange.”

Michael Priestly, another witness, said: “Their demeanour seemed bizarre. They were just sat in the car facing forwards. Neither were shouting or trying to get out.”

Casey said the couple’s reaction could be explained by shock. “This presentation I find is likely to have been explained by suddenly having entered the fast-flowing river and realising there was little or nothing they could do to ensure their return to safety,” she said.

She added that John, the driver of the vehicle, may have miscalculated the speed and distance of the river. “It is often reaction times which slow with age and vulnerability to distractions,” which in this case could have been the fast-flowing water.

Casey said there was nothing in the couple’s medical records to indicate any mental health or medical issues in relation to the accident. “When people take their lives in this age bracket, it’s very common they leave notes and settle their affairs. The evidence points entirely in the opposite direction,” she said.

The inquest heard that the couple, who were married for 60 years and had two children and four grandchildren, had started going for drives during the Covid lockdown as part of their daily routine.

Additional signs have been placed in the area to warn drivers about high water levels, and a kerb is being installed between the car park and the grass verge leading to the river next month.

The couple’s son, James Lillistone, said that while he welcomed the changes, he doubted whether they would have done anything to prevent his parents’ deaths.

“They were just making the most of the end of the day and the nice weather and I’m not sure the signage would have made any difference to them,” he said.

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