Published: 12:45, 13 May 2014 |
Updated: 16:19, 14 May 2014
A grieving mother has hit out through her tears at the young men who left her drunk son in a car park shortly before he slipped into a river and drowned.
The body of 18-year-old sapper Josh Thomas was pulled from the River Medway following a large-scale hunt almost three weeks after he disappeared.
Assistant coroner Alan Blunsdon this afternoon recorded a verdict of accidental death after a two-day inquest.
Josh had been on a night out in Rochester with four of his brothers-in-arms from Brompton Barracks on April 9, celebrating passing his City and Guilds electrical exam. But the group separated and Josh never made it home.
The hearing heard Josh was almost three times the drink-drive limit, with 224mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood.
Recording a verdict of accidental death, Mr Blunsdon said: "It's quite clear he was committed to his soldiering career and it was one which he thoroughly enjoyed and with the passing of his exams, one which he had a promising career in.
"This was a tragic event and I am grateful to the family for coming and helping me with this. A young man consumed more than was good for him.
"He was left in a car park by his friends. He was disorientated and very drunk and eventually ended up on the river bank and slipped and fell into the river and drowned. It's a very very sad case."
At the inquest into his death at The Archbishop's Palace, Maidstone, Josh's mother questioned Ieuan Bailey and Michael Lynch, two of the three young men who left him in the car park outside The Casino Rooms nightclub to go to Club Mojo in Chatham.
Violet Latimer, who was herself in the Army, said: "Basically you just didn't care. You knew they had a room inspection the next morning, but you just b******* off.
"Why didn't you phone the barracks up to let them know the state he was in?
"You just wanted to leave him because he was ruining your night."
Breaking down in court, Ms Latimer continued through her tears: "Josh's phone was out [of battery], and you knew that. He couldn't phone anybody for help and that made him even more vulnerable.
"Anything could have happened, which it obviously did. You're meant to be comrades, brothers-in-arms, but you just didn't care."
Michael replied: "We wouldn't have left him if we'd have known something was going to happen."
When speaking to Ieuan, Ms Latimer said: "If the boot had been on the other foot Josh wouldn't have just left you - he wasn't that sort of boy."
The group of five men - Nathan Casselton, Ieuan, Michael, Josh and Bryn Thomas - all went to the Golden Lion Wetherspoon's pub in Rochester High Street for a steak dinner that evening.
In a statement read in court, Nathan said he and Josh then drove back to the barracks to tidy up as they had a room inspection in the morning.
He said once that was done, they went back to the pub to meet the rest of the group.
Giving evidence, Michael said: "They [Josh and Nathan] felt like they needed to catch up with us, with the drinking, for some reason.
"They ordered four of five double Bells Whiskeys and some Jagerbombs."
The inquest heard Josh's phone died in the pub and the pair quickly became drunk.
Mr Blunsdon was told they were sick outside and shortly before closing time Nathan was thrown out of the pub. The group left together towards the car park to get a taxi, the inquest heard.
Ieuan described Josh and Nathan as being "bladdered" and said the pair were staggering around, singing at the top of their lungs and "pretending to be aeroplanes".
Michael said: "We would always go out together, but it was very rare we would return together, we would go into a lot of pubs and clubs.
"We waved them [Josh and Nathan] over to get into the taxi, but they just kept running around and mucking about."
Giving evidence, Ieuan said: "We were either going to go back to the barracks all together or us three just to Mojo's.
"Josh and Nathan were too drunk to get into the club. I called them to come over to the taxi, but they didn’t."
Ieuan said he told Josh he would phone another cab for him but that Josh "didn't seem to take it in - his face was a blank".
After the trio left, a woman called Jodie Russell, who was on a separate night out with her friend but met the soldiers as they walked to the car park. She also offered Josh and Nathan a lift home, but they declined.
In Nathan's statement, he described how Josh did not have a girlfriend, but was seeing a teacher and would often go back to girls' houses after a night out before coming back the next morning.
He added: "He would give it large when we went out, but he was never aggressive."
Michael said: "I wasn't too worried when Josh wasn't there in the morning. It wasn't the first time he had been late, but when he didn't turn up by lunchtime we all went as a group and reported him missing."
The group knew each other from previous barracks, including Gibraltar Barracks in Surrey, and became close friends.
Josh, whose parents were both in the forces, saw the group more than his family as they were on the same electrical course and lived together.
The last CCTV footage of Josh shows him stumbling across Rochester Bridge before falling and getting stuck in the partition between the pavement from the road, with his head on the dual carriageway.
After separating from three of their brothers-in-arms Josh, Thomas and Nathan Casselton - who were severely intoxicated - got into an altercation with another group of people.
One of them called 999 because the soldiers were allegedly making homophobic remarks.
But immediately after the call, the group split up and Nathan headed into Rochester High Street while Josh ran along Corporation Street towards the Rochester Bridge.
Josh was stumbling in and out of the road as he ran, the court heard at the inquest into his death.
He was caught on council CCTV cameras running along the bridge pavement before he fell awkwardly, with his head stuck out dangerously on the road.
But there are no records of the CCTV control operators notifying police of the accident, the court heard.
The initial 999 call had been downgraded by this stage as, according to chief inspector Simon Black, there were no officers available from Medway, Maidstone or North Kent and they could not be spared from other jobs because "there was no immediate danger".
But after the incident, the CCTV operators were asked to keep an eye out for Josh and Nathan.
Ch Insp Black added that although kept up to date with the soldiers' locations and their drunken states, police were not informed about Josh's accident.
He added: "Unfortunately every night of the week we see inebriated people stumbling around and we do not have the resources to send patrols out to every person.
"But in the event somebody fell, with their head through railings, we would absolutely have made our way there and most certainly called our SECAmb colleagues as well."
The CCTV footage shows Josh free himself and stumble back up before walking back the way he came and up to Gas House Lane, Rochester.
That was the last time he was seen until three weeks later when until his body was found in the river.
A huge operation saw police trudge through the mud banks and marshes of the River Medway using a boat, helicopter and the Army's help in a bid to find Josh.
However, his body was not discovered until a member of the public called the emergency services almost three weeks later.
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