Police withdrew from river rescue over gun fears

Police officers were told to retreat from efforts to save a drowning man after reports that he may have had a gun, an inquest has heard.

Tuesday, 7th June 2016, 5:20 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th June 2016, 6:32 pm
Pawel Przydalski

The inquest into Pawel Przydalski, a 26-year-old Polish national who drowned in the River Leam in November 2014, has heard evidence from officers in its second day at Warwick Crown Court.

Opening on Monday, they heard that on November 15, Mr Przydalski, who lived in Leamington, was drinking by the footbridge in the Pump Room Gardens with his fiancé, Kamila Kowalik and her brother Piotr before he got into the water.

On Tuesday, the jury heard that four officers were sent to the Pump Room Gardens that night after emergency calls that a man was in the river.

Pawel went missing near the York Road footbridge

They began searching on both sides of the river and made attempts to get close, and to instruct Pawel to get out of the water. But were not successful.

Aaron Tighe, who served as a special constable at the time, said he immediately searched the police car and nearby for anything which could be used as a float or buoyancy aid - but found nothing and instead rushed to the river to try and help.

It was shortly after that he was made aware of a teenage boy in the park who reported having seen a gun.

Mr Tighe told the inquest: “He said words to the effect of, ‘the man in the river, the one you are looking for, he’s got a gun, he cocked it’.

Pawel went missing near the York Road footbridge

“I asked if he was sure and he said he was. He seemed quite flustered and apprehensive, he seemed very genuine and I had no reason to doubt him.”

An order was then made by the police control room for the officers to withdraw, amid confusion over who had been seen with a gun.

It was not until some moments later when friends of the 14-year-old appeared, that Mr Tighe said it became apparent the man in the river did not have a gun, and that the boy may have in fact seen Piotr with a mobile phone in his hand and pocket.

The police log shows a time of around 12 minutes before the gun reports were logged and the all clear was given, but officers at the inquest agreed it had been “significantly” shorter and “more like a couple of minutes”.

Another special, Mr Mcleod said he saw Pawel from the riverbank, but because of undergrowth and the darkness visibility was “very difficult” and that once he identified himself as a police officer, Pawel began “deliberately” swimming away from him, remaining around five metres from the bank.

It was very soon after that he was told to leave the side of the river because of threats of a firearm.

Inspector Joanne Hyde who was also on duty that night said: “We had an emergency call that a man had jumped from the bridge into the river. We arrived to find a woman, Kamila was hysterical and screaming, she was pointing towards the river.

“The bank was extremely overgrown and it was dark.

“I could see Mr Przydalski in the water up to his shoulders and in a red T-shirt.

“He was shouting but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. I was shouting to him to follow my lights to the bank but it seemed he was then swimming away from our help.

“He seemed disorientated and had a cut on his head. He kept going under the water regularly and he was struggling so I called for the fire service.

“Mr Przydalski was struggling to keep his head afloat and kept shouting. Then we were told to withdraw as he may have a firearm.

“At this point I could still see him struggling for breath, his head was going under the water for up to three seconds at a time.

“I saw his head go under and not reappear as I withdrew. I told fire and rescue services to stay clear as there was a potential firearms situation.”

She said once it was clarified that there was no gun threat, the fire and rescue service began their search and later found a jacket and trainer belonging to Pawel.

His body was not recovered until four days later when a police diver searched the river.

The inquest continues.