Husband says crash barriers would not be practical along road where his wife died

Madeleine Parnwell

Madeleine Parnwell - Credit: Archant

A former senior police officer has said it would not be practicable to instal crash barriers along miles of fen waterways after his wife was killed when her car left the car and ran into a drain.

The pond at Madeleine's Patch HQ which is a breeding ground for damsels and dragonflies

The pond at Madeleine's Patch HQ which is a breeding ground for damsels and dragonflies - Credit: Archant

Steve Parnwell, a chief superintendent when he retired from the Cambridgeshire force, said: “Ironically, if there had been a barrier Madeleine probably would not have died.”

Mrs Parnwell, 68, an ecologist, died on December 13 when the accident happened off Puddock Road, close to her home in Warboys. She had been on her way home after visiting her daughters who live in the Peterborough area.

At an inquest into her death, Mr Parnwell raised concerns about the different levels between the road, which had been resurfaced, and the verge adjacent to the drain.

Senior coroner David Heming said he would write to the Highways Authority about the matter.

Madeleine's Patch: How the reserve will look by Jonathan Graham

Madeleine's Patch: How the reserve will look by Jonathan Graham - Credit: Archant

The inquest heard that there was no explanation as to why Mrs Parnwell’s Volvo swerved off the road and ran along the verge before going into the water.

After the hearing Mr Parnwell told The Hunts Post: “The cause of her death is known but the circumstances of her death will be unknown for ever because only one person knows what happened and, unfortunately, she is not here to say.”

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Mr Heming gave a narrative verdict describing how Mrs Parnwell had died after her car went into the drain. A post mortem examination showed that she had drowned.

The inquest heard that the accident two months after a similar incident in which two women died when the car they were in crashed into the drain 30 yards away and that Mrs Parnwell’s car had gone through a roadside memorial to them.

The alarm was raised when she failed to return home and PC John Mayor told how he was searching the area when he spotted tyre marks on the verge at 1.40am the following day.

“I noticed what I believed to be something in the water. I thought I saw some silver roof bars just barely visible,” he said.

The inquest heard that Mrs Parnwell had left Whitlesey at about 9pm and an outgoing call was made at 9.23pm on her phone which went out of operation at 9.40pm when the car is believed to have crashed. It was still showing signals at the time but may have been doing so automatically.

No faults were found in the vehicle, although daughter Claire later found one of her shoes wedged under the clutch pedal and the family questioned whether this could have contributed to the accident.

Claire said: “It was quite shocking to find and I had to pull it out.”

Collision investigator PC Simon Burgin told how he saw rolling tyre marks from the road to the edge of the water which indicated the driver had swerved off the road, tried to make a correction and the car had begun to fishtail.

He said he was certain that the tyre marks had come from the Volvo, rather than other vehicles which had been at the scene, including those from the earlier accident.

PC Burgin said it was impossible to say why Mrs Parnwell had swerved but accepted she may have been trying to avoid something in the road.

Mr Parnwell asked the coroner to pass on to the Chief Constable his thanks to the officers concerned for their professionalism in investigating the accident.

Mr Parnwell, who has had a lifelong interest in wildlife, set up an ecological business after retiring from the police and his wife also worked there.

The family are setting up a nature reserve - known as Madeleine’s Patch - next to the family home as a community asset which will be a living memorial to her and have already raised two thirds of the £15,000 cost.

Mr Parnwell is also setting up a not for profit business to run it and is looking for volunteers to help. He has renamed the family home as Maddeleine’s Patch HQ.

He can be contacted at