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Tragic death: Thomas Barton was just 15 when he died at Birkacre Brow

Tragic death: Thomas Barton was just 15 when he died at Birkacre Brow

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The family of a Chorley teenager who drowned in a reservoir have pleaded with parents to teach their children about the dangers of swimming in open water.

Clare and Simon Barton were speaking after the inquest into their son Thomas’s death.

The popular 15-year-old drowned while swimming with friends at Birkacre Brow in Yarrow Valley Park earlier this year.

An inquest on Monday revealed there was only one sign to warn people against swimming in the large expanse of water known as the ‘Big Lodge’ when Thomas drowned on May 27 this year. Another sign had been burnt by vandals a year before.

Thomas, of Tansley Avenue, Coppull, who went to Holy Cross Catholic High School, would have celebrated his 16th birthday in November.

Simon, an HGV driver, said: “I was so looking forward to his birthday. I feel like I have been robbed of that.

“You always think it will happen to someone else and not us. We were just caught out that day.”

The family welcomed a move by Chorley Council to bring in new signs, which are expected to be installed in the next two weeks.

It was also revealed rangers at the park had warned a number of groups about swimming in the water just hours before the tragedy.

Thomas was with a group of six friends when five of them decided to cool off in the water at Yarrow Valley Country Park on a hot day in May.

The group swamtowards a platform in the middle of the reservoir.

Four of them reached it, but Thomas began to struggle.

His friends went back into the water, but Thomas began thrashing and dragging them under. Fearing for their own lives, they had to let go.

Simon said: “It is not just the loss to us, it’s to his friends, and the people who tried to save him.

“It is just so sad. I like it when it rains now because it means no one else will be down there doing what they did.

“I think now the focus has got to be making sure no other parents have to go through this. We need to make people more aware.

“Thomas was just a normal teenage boy. They think they are invincible.

“He was a really likeable boy and he loved his computer games. He loved anything with an engine.

“Since all of this, I have found out a different side to him. Quite a fun, joking side.”

Giving evidence at the inquest at Preston Coroners Court on Monday, PC Kieron Helps described the moments he got into the water to try and save Thomas, just before 8pm.

He said: “The water was just completely black. When I went under I couldn’t see anything.

“But the one thing that stood out was how calm the water was. It was just calm, cold and dark.

“I felt so helpless. We wanted to help and we tried our best. I can imagine I was in the water for about 10 to 15 minutes. It felt like a lifetime.”

Thomas was pulled from the reservoir by underwater search crews at 11pm. His bike and the clothes he had been wearing, before he stripped to his shorts to go swimming, were still on the bank.

Earlier in the day, rangers at the park had spoken to a number of groups of youngsters who were playing in the water.

Giving evidence, Jennifer Taylor said she could not forget the words of one youngster she had warned before calling the police.

She said: “What she said will stick in my mind for the rest of my life.

“The group were laughing and joking and said ‘fancy calling the police, we were only having a bit of fun. It’s not as if we’re going to drown or anything’.”

The court was shown new four-feet
high posters which will replace the current sign to tell visitors not to go into open water at the park.

Ranger services will also be changed during the peak season so wardens will be on hand longer, particularly during warm weather. At the moment, shifts start at 9am and finish at 6pm.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, deputy coroner Simon Jones said: “The water was very cold in parts and the cold drove blood supply away from the peripheries, and had the effect of paralysing the limbs, making it impossible to swim.

“The assumption is that when a tragedy like this happens it is always going to be somebody else.

“If you are prohibiting activity such as swimming in an area where the public are encouraged to come, then the signs must be obvious to anyone attending. The signage that was in place at the time required someone to stand and read all of the 12 points on the board to realise swimming is prohibited.

“In my view, the new signs are a marked improvement.”

He also thanked the emergency services who acted on the day.

Simon said: “We have got most of the answers we wanted. The council is doing all it can now to best prevent it. The focus now has to be on making sure this doesn’t happen again.”