Inquest into death of man found in freezing lake

Gavin Egan was described as positive in last phone call with his mum
Gavin Egan was described as positive in last phone call with his mum

A man was pulled from Peasholm Lake alive eight hours before he was found floating, face-down, in the water, an inquest heard today.

Gavin Francis Egan, 34, from Scarborough, has been described by family and friends as "caring, funny" with a "big heart".

Coroner Michael Oakley recorded a narrative verdict following the inquest of Mr Egan, who was found dead in Peasholm Lake at around 11.20am on February 24 last year.

But he had been pulled alive from the lake eight hours earlier by a passing dog walker.

Ian Swales discovered the man "gurgling" near the edge of the lake, completely submerged other than his head bobbing up and down in the early hours of the morning.

Mr Swales said he struggled for approximately 20 minutes to pull Mr Egan, who was responsive, out from the freezing water.

It was just -4C and Mr Egan told Mr Swales that he was "freezing". Mr Swales, who lives nearby, ran home to get his mobile phone to call an ambulance and get a blanket for the man.

But when he returned around 13 minutes later, the man had disappeared.

He said: "If I had my phone it might have been different."

When a rapid response vehicle arrived, Mr Swales took the paramedic Steve Terry to where he said he pulled Mr Egan from the water.

But Mr Terry said there were no puddles of water, footprints or any evidence that someone had been pulled from the water. He searched the surrounding buildings, bushes and side of the lake for the man and spent more than 40 minutes at the scene.

An ambulance with two paramedics also spent 20 minutes searching the area. When it became apparent that they could not find the man they called the police for assistance.

PC Helen Hardie joined paramedic Mr Terry to search the area where they were told the man had been pulled out. But she only spent between four and five minutes by the lake.

With no evidence or water to suggest someone had been pulled from the lake, PC Hardie questioned whether the call was a hoax. She had initially been told incorrectly by control that "a man had been pulled from the lake and had run off." Although she made no attempt to contact Mr Swales who was no longer in the area.

During an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation, last year it was revealed PC Hardie had been 'disinclined to believe the incident had happened'.

She came to the conclusion that the dog walker may have been homeless and could have fabricated the entire story.

There was a broken fence and skid marks close the spot where Mr Swales found Mr Egan. His mother, Lesley Shields, asked Detective Sergeant Mark Moorhouse, who investigate the case, if Mr Egan could have tripped on the fence and fallen into the water which DS Moorhouse said was a possibility.

Mr Egan had suffered from alcohol and substance abuse and was at one stage addicted to heroine. He was taking doses of methadone which reduces withdrawal symptoms and at the time of his death was on a low dosage. A toxicology report found that he had both cannabis and methadone in his system when he died.

He had suffered a brain aneurysm in 2014 and had an operation to fit a coil to prevent further bleeding which left him unsteady at first but this had reduced over time.

Mr Egan had spoken to his mum Mrs Shields just days before his death and she recalled how she sounded "positive" and spoke of the possibility of moving to a new home.

At the preliminary hearing in November last year forensic pathologist Peter Nigel Cooper found the cause of Gavin Egan's death was "consistent with drowning."

Coroner Michael Oakley said that Mr Egan had been pulled from the water and had most likely fallen back into the lake in a disorientated state but does not believe it was a deliberate attempt to end his life.

Mr Oakley said: "The deceased has initially been rescued from Peasholm Lake but at some point thereafter has returned into the lake."

He also commended the efforts of paramedic Steve Terry who went "above and beyond the call of duty".

Mr Oakley said even with the use of a police helicopter and an underwater search team it was unlikely that they would have recovered Mr Egan alive.