Tragedy of canal boat owner who fell into canal at Frampton

A 41 year old man drowned in front of distraught relatives and his partner despite their efforts to save him after he fell overboard from his canal boat at Frampton on Severn, an inquest heard yesterday (Thursday).

Matthew Tull’s two adult nephews were with him aboard his boat ‘Ariadne’ and his partner was nearby in her own boat when he suddenly lost his footing and fell into the Sharpness canal at Splatt Bridge, Frampton, on October 18 last year, the Gloucester inquest was told.

The fall happened as he was moving back along the edge of the boat towards the cabin after taking a photo, assistant Gloucestershire Coroner Roland Wooderson was told.

Mr Tull’s partner turned her boat to head back towards him and threw a rope to him while one of the nephews jumped in to try to rescue him. But tragically he did not take hold of the rope and soon afterwards disappeared beneath the water.

Divers from Devon and Cornwall Police later recovered his body from the canal.

A post mortem confirmed he died of drowning. He had used cannabis at some time before his death but it was not possible to say whether it was still affecting him at the time of his fall. the coroner heard.

Mr Wooderson recorded a conclusion of accidental death.

The inquest heard the tragedy happened on 18th October last year as Mr Tull and his partner were both sailing their boats along the canal from Frampton to Cambridge, where his nephews had parked their car. The plan was to moor near the car so they could drive home later that day.

In a statement Mr Tull’s partner said she was ahead in her boat and she could see Mr Tull driving his vessel with one of the nephews standing at the front and the other at the back.

She then noticed one of the nephews walking along the side of the boat and ‘looking nervous,’ she stated. She saw Matthew gesture to his nephew to get back into the cabin.

A few seconds later, she said, she heard shouting and turned to look. She saw the other nephew at the front of her partner’s boat and someone in the water. People on the canal towpath looked distressed and she then realised it was Matthew who had gone overboard and was 4-5metres away from the bank, she stated.

She said she believed Mr Tull was able to swim so thought he would be able to keep himself afloat. She got as close as possible to him and then cut her engine as he called for help.

“I was four or five feet away from him and I threw a rope towards him,” she said. “It landed a couple of feet away. I could see his head and arm above the water but he didn’t react to the rope being there.”

The coroner went on “She shouted to people on the bank for help and said that she couldn’t swim herself. She was hoping they would help.

“The nephews got the boat to the side and moored it. She thinks it was at that point that Mr Tull disappeared under the water and she could no longer see him.

“Her own engine would not restart and she called 999 from her mobile phone. She saw one of the nephews with a rope and he jumped into the canal and swam to where Matthew had last been seen. She threw a rope to a cyclist and he helped her moor her boat. A helicopter and emergency services then arrived.”

A police report said the tragedy began when Elliott and Charlie were being taught by Mr Tull how to steer the boat. Mr Tull went out on the deck to take a photo and then as he walked around the boat to return to the cabin he lost his footing and fell into the water. They switched off the engine and shouted to Mr Tull’s partner while one of the nephews got his outer clothes off and dived in to try to save Mr Tull but couldn’t see where he was.

The post mortem examination showed there was no alcohol in Mr Tull’s body but he had used cannabis at some time prior to his death. However, it was impossible to determine how recently. It was possible the cannabis could have affected his co-ordination and the speed of his reactions.

The coroner concluded: “It is clear that very sadly he fell from his boat into the canal and despite the efforts of a number of persons he drowned within the canal.”

Conclusion: accidental death.

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