Police in Durham blame ‘alcohol and late night drinking’ for three student deaths in 14 months

Durham Supt: ‘It’s broader than simply putting barriers at the riverside’

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Police comments that appear to blame uni drinking culture for the deaths of three students in the space of just over a year have sparked anger.

Supt. Andy Huddleston of Durham Constabulary expressed “grave concerns” about the safety of the river, but highlighted one of the areas police would examine was “people affected by alcohol and late night drinking”.

A body was retrieved from the River Wear earlier today, believed to be Euan Coulthard, a St Mary’s Law second year who went missing a week ago. This is the third student death as a result of students falling in the river in fourteen months.

Credit: Durham Constabulary

Credit: Durham Constabulary

The Durham police chief said: “One of the areas we will be looking at, with the support of the Students’ Union, is the welfare of people affected by alcohol and late night drinking.

“In the days and months ahead there will be several partnership meetings to discuss these issues.

“It’s broader than simply putting barriers at the riverside.

“Every time we have a loss of life is tragic.

“It is a concern I have that in the last 14 months I have been involved in searches for three students who have died in the river.

“Looking at past records there were virtually 30 years with no deaths in the river.

“The fact we have had three in 14 months is of grave concern.

“In the past two years we have been working hard to improve the safety of students in the city, it is not just about river safety but about young people’s safety across the board.

“While CCTV, barriers and lights is something I welcome this is a far greater issue.”

Supt. Huddleston addresses the press. Credit: Durham Constabulary

Supt. Huddleston addresses the press. Credit: Durham Constabulary

Earlier today, an officer on the scene told our reporter: “A supermarket in the middle of town sells more vodka than milk”.

A student-led petition, which has gained support from David Cameron, the Prime Minister and argues for increased river safety, including CCTV, barriers, and gates at main access points to the river, has garnered over 14,000 signatures.

Emma Yeo, a fresher in St Chad’s, said: “The key issue is why the river is in such a dangerous state. That’s what needs to be addressed first and foremost.

“Otherwise it appears that the police are blaming the victims of these tragedies rather than seeking to prevent others dying in similar circumstances.”

The scene where a body was retrieved earlier today

The scene where a body was retrieved earlier today

Poppy Ovenden, a Cuth’s third year, said: “It’s fairly unrealistic to expect any student population to cut back on drinking.”

The student community appears to be taking river safety into their own hands. Jessie Donnelly, also of St. Chad’s, has suggested organising river patrols to assist students leaving bars and clubs.

Euan Coulthard disappeared after a night out last Wednesday

Euan Coulthard disappeared after a night out last Wednesday

The Principal of St Mary’s College led tributes today.

Professor Simon Hackett said: “We are deeply shocked and saddened by the death of Euan Coulthard. He was an extremely popular student with a warm character and a great sense of humour. Euan was a genuine friend to many, this was evident from the sheer number of students who helped with the Police search.

“He held a scholarship from the Squire Sanders Sutton Trust and as well as being a very bright and diligent student, he was passionate about sport; he played football for the College and took a keen interest in cricket. Euan fully embraced University life and was a valued member of St. Mary’s community.

“He will be deeply missed by everyone here at St. Mary’s College and at the University, especially those who knew him well. Our thoughts are with Euan’s family and his friends at this very sad time.

“We will be working with Euan’s friends to consider how to bring the whole College community together at this time to mark our loss. The University is offering support to any students who have been personally affected by Euan’s death.”