Mother of man drowned in River Ouse says police officers should have done more to save him

  • Report by Granada Reports Merseyside correspondent Andy Bonner


The mother of a man who drowned in a river after being chased by police says she believes officers involved could have saved him.

28-year-old Steven O'Neill from Birkenhead died in the River Ouse in York while in the city celebrating his brother's birthday.

He entered the water after being pursued by police who had been called to investigate suspected drug-dealing.

An inquest heard Steven got into difficulty after entering the water. A jury returned a conclusion of misadventure.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) also found actions by the officers from North Yorkshire Police had neither "caused or contributed" to his death.

28-year-old Steven O'Neill from Birkenhead died after getting into difficulty in the River Ouse.

But, Steven's mother Sharon Scott believes her son's life could have been saved as her son could not swim.

She said: "You think the police will be saving your son or that your police will help preserve life because that's what they're the policing principles dictate.

"They don't put themselves at risk but at least try and preserve life, which did not happen in reference to my son."

Steven's death was one of a number of river-related incidents in Spring 2019.

His inquest heard police did not use rescue equipment to help him leave the water. Reports suggested officers believed he was too far away to reach.

Steven's mother Sharon Scott believes her son's life could have been saved by police officers.

Jodie Anderson, from charity Inquest who provide expertise on state related deaths and their investigation, said: "Had the police responded differently then we believe Steven would still be here today.

"Fundamentally those are our concerns. Firstly that police pursuit was not proportionate to the risk. Secondly that the response was poor. it certainly should have been better."

The IOPC found there was no indication officers' decisions and actions caused or contributed to Steven's death.

North Yorkshire Police offered its condolences, adding that it worked with the IOPC to ensure the incident was fully investigated.

The force will remind officers to be aware of life saving aids, and to use body worn video cameras.

But Sharon says she was left disappointed by the inquest process.

The coroner in the case has decided not to comment.

She said: "Let's see, you know what we could learn from this, what mistakes were made, you know?

"But we were never given that opportunity. It was a staggered four day, facade. A frugal attempt to just go through the motions."

A North Yorkshire Police spokesman said: "A coroner's inquest into Mr O'Neill's death has now concluded.

"Prior to this, North Yorkshire Police has worked with the IOPC to ensure the circumstances surrounding the incident were fully investigated.

"The IOPC found there to be no indication that the officers' decisions and actions caused or contributed to Mr O'Neill's death.

"North Yorkshire Police extends it condolences to Mr O'Neill's family at this difficult time."

The IOPC found that actions by the officers from North Yorkshire Police neither "caused or contributed" to his death.

IOPC Regional Director Miranda Biddle added: "The death of Steven O'Neill was a tragedy and our thoughts remain with his family, loved ones and all those affected by the events of that day.

"Our investigation concluded in April 2020 and our findings were shared with Mr Neill's family, North Yorkshire Police and the coroner.

"We examined CCTV and police body-worn video footage of Mr O'Neill's interaction with police.

"We also obtained witness statements from officers in involved in trying to detain him, as well as those who took part in the search, and spoke to members of the public and emergency services who were present.

"Our investigation found no indication that any officers involved may have behaved in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings or committed a criminal offence. Police officers were treated as witnesses throughout.

"There was no indication that the officers' decisions and actions caused or contributed to Mr O'Neill's death.

"Throughout this investigation, we carefully considered whether there were any opportunities for learning or improvement.

"The force agreed to remind officers and staff of the need to be aware of the location of life saving aids on their patrol area and to remind officers of the importance of using their body worn video cameras."

Sharon says that although she knows she will never get her son back, she hopes she can prevent deaths in the future by educating people on the waterfront about the deadly risks of the river.