IN November 2003, popular 16-year-old Natalie Dibden lost her life when a night out with friends ended in tragedy. Reporter Joe Forte looks back at what happened, as a cautionary tale but also a reminder of how beloved the “bubbly” teenager was.
NATALIE Dibden shouldn’t have been allowed into the Warehouse nightclub in Dursley on November 8, 2003.
The 16-year-old, of Orchard Close in Charfield near Wotton-under-Edge, was with her friends as they decided to try their luck.
Earlier in the evening, Natalie and her friends had successfully managed to get into pubs in Dursley, and after a few drinks they were in the mood to prolong their night.
She also decided to meet up with her boyfriend, Darren Donny, 17, who she had met while working at the Michaelwood services on the M5.
After arriving in Dursley town centre, the group then decided to attempt to get into the Warehouse at around 11.45pm.
Despite none of the group being of legal drinking age, neither Natalie, Darren nor her friends were asked for identification at the door.
After drinking a pint of lager, Natalie then downed 12 shots of spirits and other strong liquors during the two hours she was in the club.
Liam Sinclair, a barman working at the Warehouse during that night 17-years-ago, joked with Natalie that she should “slow down”.
At around 1pm, the excessive amount of alcohol Natalie had ingested began to take its toll. The teenager began stumbling and at 1.45pm she fell off her chair and had trouble maintaining balance and she was escorted out of the club by staff.
Timothy Coleman, who also worked at the nightclub, saw Natalie lying in Parsonage Street at around 2.15am, which prompted residents to call for an ambulance.
After the ambulance arrived, it was clear that Natalie was paralytic and the two paramedics, Alan Twinning and Peter Fuller, also feared she may have had her drink spiked, so they decided to take her to hospital.
Sarah Dibden, Natalie’s mother, was then informed of her daughter’s condition and she arrived before the ambulance left the nightclub so she could follow them to the hospital.
Natalie was put onto a stretcher in the back of the ambulance. Mr Fuller had undone one of the safety straps that prevents patients from falling off, to make the teenager more comfortable.
The vehicle then set off to the hospital with Sarah close behind.
Natalie then told the two paramedics that she was close to throwing up and repeatedly said that she needed to go to the toilet.
But with her chest strap already undone, she suddenly undid the leg strap herself and swung a leg off the stretcher.
Mr Fuller, who was in the back of the ambulance with Natalie, told her: “You can’t sit like that, you’re not safe there. I will compromise. I will put the stretcher up for you and you can sit back there.”
But, as Mr Fuller adjusted the head of the stretcher, which was at the opposite end of the compartment to the door, Natalie quickly made a move for the door.
In his rear-view mirror, Mr Twinning noticed Natalie had stood up and was facing the door at around 3.30am. Mr Fuller tried to grab her but couldn’t.
With a blood alcohol level of 230mg per 100ml – almost three times the legal limit for driving – dazed and confused, Natalie had managed to open the catch at the back door.
As the ambulance was travelling near to junction 12 of the northbound carriageway of the M5, Sarah Dibden was following her daughter’s journey directly behind.
The ambulance door sprang open and Sarah could see her daughter holding onto the door, before she fell from the ambulance which was travelling at 70mph.
Sarah pulled over and tended to her unconscious daughter with both paramedics, who dragged her out of the way of oncoming traffic.
Unresponsive, Natalie had sustained a subdural haematoma and brain swelling caused by the impact of her fall. She was taken to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital where she died at 1.25pm on Sunday, November 9 after the decision was made to switch off her life support machine.
At the subsequent inquest, the jury heard that paramedic Mr Fuller was seen by a police officer looking “ghostly white” and “physically shaking” after he arrived at the hospital.
At the time, West Midlands Ambulance Service training manager James Carswell explained that the two stretcher straps should be fastened for basic safety, but that staff had no direct authority to insist a patient had them on. The policy of the Gloucestershire Ambulance Trust crews was also not to lock the doors of their vehicles while they are in transit.
During the inquest both paramedics said that it was not their policy to fully lock the rear door because of safety fears in case of a road traffic accident or an attack on a crew member by a patient.
The inquest jury reached a verdict of accidental death.
Coroner Alan Crickmore told the jury that the Warehouse nightclub would be sent a rule 43 letter for failing to prevent underage drinking on their premises.
He said: “Had Natalie not been binge drinking in the Warehouse, the circumstances we have heard about were unlikely to have occurred.”
Natalie was a lively bubbly girl and enjoyed a variety of activities, but she was shy and quiet, never the one to be in the limelight. She always enjoyed the company of her friends, especially to see bands play and going to pictures. Anyone who knew Natalie will know that she was a true “Buffy” fan.
A year on from Natalie’s death, her parents Steve and Sarah paid tribute to her, saying: “Natalie was a lively, bubbly girl and enjoyed a variety of activities, but she was shy and quiet, never the one to be in the limelight.
“She always enjoyed the company of her friends, especially to see bands play and going to pictures. Anyone who knew Natalie will know that she was a true ‘Buffy’ fan.”
“Natalie was a daughter that we were all proud and honoured to have known. She was always happy with a smile that could melt anyone, young or old.”
Natalie’s headteacher at The Castle School in Thornbury, Adrian Verwoert, said at the time: “She was a model student and a pleasure to teach. She was a quiet, unassuming, charming girl who did the best she could.”
Natalie’s close friend Becky Vale, at the time, said she would remember her as “so bubbly and having a great sense of humour and special energy.”
“There was never a dull moment when you were with her, just constant giggling,” she added.
“She was a sharing and caring person who never let anyone down. She was a very special friend that will never be forgotten. Nobody could ask for a better mate.”
The Warehouse nightclub closed down not long after the death of Natalie.
The former Warehouse, at the corner of May Lane and Parsonage Street, is now Hunters estate agents and Della Casa Italian restaurant.