Saturday, 27 Nov 2021

Dad drowned in front of pal after falling off boat party as ‘silly prank’

A young dad-of-two drowned in front of his friend after falling off a boat party following a 'silly prank'.

Wind farm rigger Neil Stewart, from Newcastle, died in the North Sea Canal in November 2017.

The friend of the father-of-two, aged 30, has recalled his heartbreak at being unable to save him.

The 30-year-old's body was discovered two weeks later following a major search by Dutch police.

He was given the city break as a surprise by fiancée Chelsea Dixon, who arranged for the couple to attend a Bounce Till I Die (BTID) dance event on a boat.

Mr Stewart’s friend and colleague Paul Armes was also on the boat, and told the inquest he realised someone was in the water when the vessel stopped, with one witness claiming they thought it was a 'silly prank'.

The offshore supervisor, who has first aid and water rescue qualifications, told the court he was desperate to save his friend after seeing him struggling in the water.

He wept as he told the inquest: "I wanted to get a rubber ring around me and jump in. I could see Neil at this point but the captain wouldn't let me.

"They said they couldn't put the lifeboat out and said they had requested a helicopter but it could take 15 minutes."

"I could see him for 10 minutes and then he was gone. I just wanted to help him."

Mr Stewart had got into an altercation on the smoking deck at the back of the boat and was being kept away from other partygoers while security calmed him down, coroner Karen Dilks was told.

In a statement, witness Kirsty Green said she believed he deliberately jumped from the boat into the canal.

She said: “He was stood alone, smoking and the next thing I saw was him in the air, it looked like it was slow motion.

"He had landed on his back and he had his face up in the water."

"I thought it was some sort of silly kind of prank. He was smiling or laughing in the water."

She described the events as "horrendous" and said she saw a light in the water, possibly from Mr Stewart's mobile phone.

Fellow reveller Samantha Godkin said she witnessed Mr Stewart came "out of nowhere" and punch her friend Paul Tomlinson in the face.

The sales assistant said: "We were laughing and joking and my partner had gone to get us a drink. Then all of a sudden out of nowhere someone ran over and punched Paul in the jaw. It cracked it was that loud."

Mr Stewart’s fiancée told the hearing the couple had flown out to the Netherlands to meet their friends who had just got engaged the previous day.

They had enjoyed drinks together throughout the day, with Mr Stewart drinking rum and cokes and Jägerbombs.

Post mortem toxicology tests revealed he had taken cocaine during the day, the inquest heard.

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