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Tragic Medway soldier Josh Thomas based at Brompton Barracks 'refused lifts home' from Rochester before river death, inquest told

By Lizzie Massey

A young Medway soldier who died after a night out celebrating passing exams with friends did not accept several offers of a lift home, an inquest heard today.

The body of 18-year-old sapper Josh Thomas was pulled from the River Medway after a large-scale hunt almost three weeks after he disappeared.

A coroner heard he had been out with five friends - Nathan Casselton, Ieuan Bailey, Michael Lynch and Bryn Thomas - in Rochester on April 9 last year.

Soldier Josh Thomas, 18, whose body was found in the River Medway after a 19-day search

The group, all stationed at Brompton Barracks at the time, spent most of the night at The Golden Lion Wetherspoon's pub in the High Street.

But they separated when Ieuan, Michael and Bryn decided to get a taxi to Club Mojo, in Chatham, leaving Josh and Nathan in the car park outside The Casino Rooms nightclub.

Both Ieuan and Michael described Josh and Nathan as being "bladdered" at the inquest in The Archbishop's Palace, Maidstone.

The pair were said to be staggering around, singing at the top of their lungs and "pretending to be aeroplanes".

One of the last CCTV images of tragic soldier Josh Thomas

Jodie Russell was also on a night out with a friend that evening and - as designated driver - was sober.

Having met the group of soldiers in the pub, she continued with them as they walked to the car park to get a taxi and she went back to her car.

Ms Russell said: "Three of [Josh's] friends were talking about going to Mojo's.

"I asked how Josh and Nathan were going to get home and they said something like 'don't worry about them - they always find their way home'.

"One of them said something to Josh and then got into the cab and they left."

A poster put up at Rochester Bridge by friends of missing soldier Josh Thomas

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, Ms Russell also offered Josh and Nathan a lift home, but they declined.

At the time of his death, police said Josh walked on to Rochester Bridge before doubling back.

He was last seen on CCTV at 1am crossing the A2 outside The Crown pub.

Police and lifeboat crews involved in the search for teenager Josh Thomas

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.

Josh was celebrating after he and his friend had just passed his City and Guilds electrical exam.

During the inquest, Josh - from Neath, South Wales - was described as loving being in the Army.

The inquest continues.

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