Kyle Bonnes: Lifebelts 'could have saved' Derry teenager

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Media captionKyle Bonnes died after jumping into a river at Drumahoe

The chairman of Foyle Search and Rescue has repeated a coroner's conclusion that lifebelts along the River Faughan might have saved the life of a Londonderry schoolboy in 2010.

Kyle Bonnes, 15, died on 7 April 2010 after he jumped into the river at Drumahoe, on the outskirts of Derry.

He and his friend Glen O'Hara were running from police.

Stephen Twells from Foyle Search and Rescue said the responsibility for lifebelts was a "tricky subject".

"Who takes accountability when the lifebelts aren't there or when they are wrecked or stolen? It's tricky.

"It's our understanding that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) would have responsibility for the tributaries of local rivers.

"Had there been lifebelts, Kyle maybe could have been saved."

On Tuesday, coroner John Leckey said he intended to write to DCAL asking it to provide and maintain lifebelts along the river Faughan.

The court was told that on the day that he drowned, Kyle had appeared that morning before the youth court in Derry and was released on bail with conditions that included not being allowed to consume alcohol.

'Upset and crying'

David King, a friend of Kyle's, said later the same day, a group of them had met at a car park near the playing fields at Drumahoe, and they all went to the shops.

The friends dispersed for a short while but Kyle and another friend, Glen O'Hara, went to nearby playing fields to drink a bottle of vodka, which Kyle had bought at the shop.

David King said he had returned to the fields after getting some chips, by which time two police officers had arrived.

They were responding to a call from a member of the public who had seen the two teenagers playing in a field in a drunken state.

David King saw the officers walking towards Kyle and Glen who were "hiding behind a tree".

Mr King said when the officers saw the pair, they began running towards them.

Robert Brolly, a local fisherman, arrived at the river bank just as the chase was happening.

Mr Brolly said he realised immediately that Kyle Bonnes was in real trouble. He said he knew that stretch of water well because he was a fisherman.

When Kyle's body was eventually taken from the water, Mr Brolly said one of the officers was "crying and clearly distressed".

Mr Brolly said he would not have jumped into the water because he knew how extremely dangerous it was.

'Justified and proportionate'

Mark Sergeant, another local man who did enter the water that day from the opposite river bank, described how he tried to make his way across but was not able to.

The coroner told Mr Sergeant that he was going to put his name forward for a bravery award for his efforts.

It emerged during the inquest that neither of the policemen involved could swim.

Image caption A memorial has been set up along the River Faughan

During his evidence, Constable Nicholas Rainey, who had only been in the police force for 13 weeks at the time, said he is still deeply affected by the outcome of that pursuit.

He told the court that he and his colleague, Constable Peter Olphert parked their car and walked towards the boys, who were walking towards them at first, but who then turned and ran off.

He said that, while Glen O'Hara jumped over a wall and made his escape, Kyle Bonnes ran towards the river and, after hiding briefly behind rocks, he entered the water.

Constable Rainey then recounted that it was clear that Kyle was in difficulty immediately and that while his colleague, Constable Olphert, radioed for help, he attempted to stretch a branch out to the young boy.

Under cross-examination from the Bonnes family's lawyer, both officers concluded that their actions were "justified and proportionate".

The second officer, Constable Peter Olphert, said he had never considered the possibility that Kyle would go into the water because "he could have taken another laneway or jumped over the same wall as his friend."

Coroner John Leckey said that Kyle Bonnes's life could have been saved if there had been lifebelts along that stretch of the River Faughan

"I recognise that even if such equipment had been readily available, any rescue would have been fraught with difficulty" said Mr Leckey.

"Bearing in mind Kyle's intoxicated state, the paralysing effect caused by the coldness of the water, the treacherous currents in that part of the river and the short time it takes to drown.

"I am satisfied that even if the police officers could swim it would have been unwise for either to enter the water particularly in the absence of lifesaving equipment."

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