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Four boys who died while playing on frozen lake were feeding ducks and tried to save each other

Witnesses described seeing the boys in the water screaming for help

Adam Dutton ,Martha McHardy
Friday 07 July 2023 16:06 BST
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Jack Johnson, brothers Finlay and Samuel Butler and their cousin Thomas Stewart, who died after falling into a frozen lake
Jack Johnson, brothers Finlay and Samuel Butler and their cousin Thomas Stewart, who died after falling into a frozen lake (Family handout/West Midlands Police)

Four boys who died while playing on a frozen lake were feeding ducks when one of them plunged through the ice and the others tried to save him, an inquest has heard.

Finlay Butler, eight, and his younger brother Samuel, six, died alongside their cousin Thomas Stewart, 11, and Jack Johnson, 10, in what has been described as a “devastating tragedy”.

An inquest on Friday heard all four fell into the freezing water after going to feed the ducks and skim stones at Babbs Mill Park, in Solihull, West Mids, on 11 December last year.

Birmingham Coroners Court was told Finlay plunged through the ice first before Thomas, Samuel and Jack fell in while trying to help him.

Police said no one witnessed Samuel fall in the water, but “the assumption is that he had rushed towards the danger to help”.

Witnesses described seeing the boys in the water screaming for help before they went under the surface during sub-zero temperatures.

Emergency services rushed to the scene at 2pm and police officers ignored safety advice to form a human chain and wade into the lake in a bid to rescue the boys.

Police used their hands to smash through the ice but were unable to find the boys for another 22 minutes until Jack, Tom and Sam were discovered underwater.

Finlay was recovered from the lake at around 3.05pm having been in the water for 32 minutes but nothing could be done to save the boys.

The hearing was told all four boys had drowned.

Officers from West Midlands Police lay bouquets of flowers and stood in silence near to the scene in Babbs Mill Park in Kingshurst, Solihull (PA)

Detective chief inspector James Edmonds, of West Midlands Police, told the inquest: “They’d gone to play on the ice.

“For reasons unbeknown, the ice has broken away. It has become fragmented and that has resulted in the boys falling through the ice and into the freezing cold water.

“The impacts of the water temperature would have significantly contributed to the boys being unable to stay afloat.

“It’s a terrible tragedy, my heart and condolences goes out to the families.”

Meanwhile, area commander Alex Shapland, of West Midlands Fire Service, said crews did all they could to rescue the boys who would have gone into shock.

Police break the ice on the lake at Babbs Mill Park in Kingshurst, after the deaths of four boys (PA)

He said: “We have a number of different water capabilities to affect water rescues.

“The water was extremely cold. When you enter water of that temperature your body goes into shock [which makes] it makes it very difficult to function.

“We could not have done any more in the time we had.”

Addressing the boy’s families, Birmingham coroner Louise Hunt described the deaths as a “devastating tragedy”.

Family tributes to the four boys were read out ahead of the hearing. Jack was described as an “amazing soul”, while Tom was described as a “kind boy” who “always had a smile on his face.”

Meanwhile, Finlay’s read: “Finlay was an eight-year-old boy full of character and loved by many. He loved the outdoors regardless of the weather.

“As his parents, we couldn’t be prouder of the young man he was becoming.”

Sam’s read: “Sam was the most independent six-year-old that you’ve ever met.

“He was obsessed with dogs and wanted his own sausage dog from Father Christmas. Sam was his own person at such a young age.”

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