Attempt made to save Peter Harnwell from Walsall floods

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image captionPeter Harnwell could not open his van door because of the force of the water, witnesses said

Residents and firefighters frantically tried to save an 82-year-old man whose camper van was trapped in floodwater, an inquest into his death heard.

Peter Harnwell, a retired photographer, may have been out to take "pictures of the storm as it unfolded" in Walsall, said coroner Zafar Siddique.

He was trapped in 6ft (1.8m) deep water in the early hours of 28 May.

People climbed on to the van's roof and tried to smash his windscreen with a hammer, the inquest in Oldbury heard.

Black Country coroner Mr Siddique gave the cause of Mr Harnwell's death as drowning and recorded a verdict of misadventure.

More than a month's rainfall had hit parts of Birmingham and the Black Country in one hour the previous day.

Fatal 'calculated risk'

Ahead of the inquest, assistant coroner Emma Serrano said there were possible issues concerning the positioning of flood warning signs.

However, Mr Siddique said he was satisfied "there was clear signage" and an abandoned vehicle suggested the water was "extremely deep".

Offering his condolence to the family of Mr Harnwell, from Evesham, Worcestershire, he added: "It's clear he took a calculated risk when he travelled into the water but sadly, that ultimately resulted in his death.

"It was an act he did intentionally but he didn't intend the outcome."

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image captionThunderstorms and heavy downpours caused flash flooding on 27 May

Witnesses told the inquest Mr Harnwell, who was stuck on Lichfield Road, could not open his van door because of the force of the water and he was submerged for up to 10 minutes.

In a written statement, resident Oliver Rowan said he had shouted to him to "get out" because "I could see him trying to steer the van and at this point the van was starting to fill".

Mr Rowan, who went into the water with a highways worker, said: "We tried to smash the windows with a hammer but by now the van was fully submerged.

"I did what I could under the circumstances."

'True gentleman'

Firefighters tried to resuscitate Mr Harnwell at the scene but were unable to.

Mr Siddique praised those who had tried to rescue him.

Mr Harnwell had been a photographer for the Ministry of Defence.

For many years he was a member of the Vale of Evesham Camera Club and fellow members described him as a keen photographer and true gentleman.

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