Death of father-of-three from St Neots who drowned in River Great Ouse ruled as misadventure

James Griffin

James Griffin - Credit: Archant

A father-of-three from St Neots who drowned in the River Great Ouse was his “happy go lucky self” on the day he died, an inquest heard.

Emergency services search the river at the St Neots Dragon Boat Festival.

Emergency services search the river at the St Neots Dragon Boat Festival. - Credit: Archant

James Griffin had been playing football with his friends before the St Neots Dragon Boat Festival on August 29 last year when the ball they were using was kicked into the river.

Warren Caunt, a friend of Mr Griffin, told the hearing: “I told the guys to leave the ball as I sent my ex-partner a text telling her to bring another ball with her but I then saw James pick up his towel and walk along the river bank down stream.”

The football had floated down the river and it was noted at the hearing that Mr Griffin remarked to friends: “I may as well get it as none of you will”.

In his statement Mr Caunt added: “Then he walked off with a smile on his face.”

Mr Griffin began to walk down the river until he was nearly level with the ball at Regatta Meadow and divided in head first.

“He was approximately half way and I noticed his stroke had slowed down some what. He appeared to be heading more towards the boats rather than gaining on the ball.

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“I began to think this isn’t funny anymore and became concerned about him. I then definitely heard him shout help me.”

The inquest, held at Lawrence Court, in Huntingdon, today (January 28), heard that a rescue attempt was immediately launched to save Mr Griffin, with two men diving into the water.

“I could see him waving his arms,” added Mr Caunt, “I then shouted to other team members and shouted to get an ambulance.”

Mr Caunt and others in boats and in the water wearing scuba masks were circling the area of the river but were unable to see him.

The emergency services were called to the scene along with divers from Cambridgeshire Fire Rescue Service and a specialist search team.

The 40-year-old, who worked for the Waresley-based family haulage business R N Griffin Transport, was recovered from the water at about 3pm but pronounced dead later in the afternoon.

The area of water where the former Hinchingbrooke School pupil drowned was due to host the annual St Neots Dragon Boat Festival on the day but the event was cancelled while the search was carried out by divers.

More than 20 crews from St Neots companies and organisations had been expected to race in 30ft dragon boats over the 200 metre course.

Mr Griffin, of Laxton Close, Eaton Ford, had been at the St Neots Dragon Boat Festival as the captain of one of the teams, the Pool Sharks.

Mr Caunt, who was taking part in the race with Mr Griffin, said: “At around 8.45am I came to the tent and was met by James, he was he happy go lucky self and appeared to be looking forward to the day.”

Assistant coroner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Simon Milburn said: “What happened when Mr Griffin was swimming across it is unclear. He may have misjudged the distance or the strength of the current.”

Mr Milburn recorded a conclusion of misadventure and expressed his condolences to Mr Griffin’s family and friends.

He added: “I appreciate it has been an extremely traumatic and difficult time for you and I express my condolences.”