Inquest held into tragic teacher death

THE WIFE of a popular special needs teacher who died when his canoe was swept over a weir has said she does not want anyone else to go through the same nightmare.

James Hore

THE WIFE of a popular special needs teacher who died when his canoe was swept over a weir has said she does not want anyone else to go through the same nightmare.

Lisa Ball was speaking after the inquest into the death of her husband, Alex, who died after he got into difficulties on the River Stour at Stoke by Clare.

Mr Ball, 39, of Clacton, had been canoeing with friend Dave Robson on December 31 when the river was “hazardous” because of the amount of rain there had been.

The pair, travelling from New England, near Haverhill, to Cavendish, had already got out of their canoes to walk around one weir when they came to a second one.

The inquest in Bury St Edmunds heard Mr Ball and Mr Robson pulled up in a calmer “eddy” in the river and agreed they would not go over the weir, but Mr Ball' s canoe seemingly was caught in the strong current.

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Mr Robson, of Clacton, saw the father-of-one's canoe rolling over and his friend disappeared.

He said: “If he has got caught in the current, he was going so fast maybe he felt he had more chance of going over it, rather than trying not to go over it.

“He had a fear of water, if he was to turn upside down he would come directly out of the boat, he would not attempt to try and right himself.”

He told the inquest Mr Ball normally wore a helmet, but had forgotten to bring it with him on the day.

Mr Robson ran to a nearby house to call for help following the incident at about 10am.

Suffolk Coroner Dr Peter Dean paid tribute to the valiant efforts of fishermen who tried in vain to resuscitate the canoeist and especially thanked Pc Carl Brandwood who risked his own life to hang perilously from a tree a bid to reach Mr Ball.

Pc Brandwoodwas one of three officers at the scene and spotted Mr Ball's motionless body on the far bank.

He said: “I attempted to reach him, but could not reach him. Three members of the public pulled him from the river.”

Witnesses said Mr Ball had a bump or bruise on his forehead, but it is not known at what stage he suffered the injury.

Anglers James Charter and Roger Ince came from a nearby fishing lake and pulled Mr Ball from the water and tried in vain to resuscitate him.

An air ambulance crew then arrived and took over, but the inquest heard that it was likely nothing could have been done to save him.

Local residents told the inquest that they very rarely saw canoeists on the stretch which is not listed as a navigable section of the Stour.

Dr Charles Beardall , of the Environment Agency, said the site was deemed a “medium” risk, but said there were no warning signs at the time.

However, he said he did not think the tragedy would have been avoided even if signs had been in place.

Speaking to the EADT, Mrs Ball said: “I would not ever want anyone else to go through what I have been through. Once is one time too many.

“I think I will sit down tonight and process it all and let it sink in. I am so grateful to all the people who tried to help Alex.

“He really did love canoeing and would always do so much preparation before a trip, and we bought him maps that he would research before setting out.”

Mrs Ball said she was not happy that witness statements were not taken until six months after the accident, a point that the coroner agreed with during his summing up.

Dr Dean recorded a verdict of accidental death and said Mr Ball, who worked at Shorefields School, Clacton, had drowned.

He paid tribute to Mrs Ball's efforts, saying: “Mrs Ball has been the prime mover in making sure every possible lesson from this tragedy can be learned

“Clearly there are some hazards in these circumstances, but there is no suggestion there was any recklessness here.”

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