Durham responds after third student river death

A night-time safety campaign has been launched by Durham University after three students died in the River Wear in the space of 14 months

February 7, 2015

Durham cathedral

Ray Hudson, the acting vice-chancellor, said senior management treated the issues of student safety and excessive alcohol consumption “with the utmost seriousness”.

However, Durham’s chief constable has ruled out providing more officers to patrol the banks of the river, arguing it was “ludicrous” for officers to be expected to “stop bright young things falling in”.

It follows the death last month of Euan Coulthard, 19, after a night out. Undergraduates Sope Peters and Luke Pearce also died after entering the river in separate incidents stretching back to 2013.

Following the death of Mr Coulthard, more than 15,000 people signed a petition calling for improved safety alongside the Wear. The cover of this week’s edition of the student newspaper Palatinate featured pictures of the three students with the headline “Enough”.

The measures being developed by the university and the students’ union include the use of student volunteers alongside community safety groups in a night-time scheme, and the establishment of a new arrangement with taxi operators to ensure “at risk” students can get home safely.

Meanwhile, Durham County Council is funding a £50,000 students’ union campaign to promote responsible drinking among the city’s students.

In a statement, Professor Hudson said the university would take action to improve safety.

Durham University’s senior management is treating the matters of student safety and excessive alcohol consumption with the utmost seriousness,” he said.

“We are committed to taking action but we recognise that these are issues which can only be addressed through a multi-agency approach. Addressing the alcohol culture which has developed in our society as a whole will involve a major shift in attitudes.”

The statement said that Durham already had a minimum pricing policy for alcohol in its bars and did not serve students who were drunk.

But Mike Barton, the county’s chief constable, said students had to drink more responsibly.

He told the BBC that what linked the three deaths was the fact that three young men had become “so paralytically drunk they were not in control of their bodies”.

Mr Barton added: “What we need to look at is the personal responsibility of young men and women who are coming away to university, starting their lives and who need to behave a bit more socially responsibly.

“I was incensed when I heard some representatives of the student body saying the answer is for more police officers.

“It is ludicrous that society is asking me to put police officers on the riverbank to stop bright young things falling in. What sort of world have we come to?”

chris.havergal@tesglobal.com

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Reader's comments (2)

There is a huge alcohol consumption culture at Durham. Minimum alcohol pricing isn't really a big deterrent given that a disproportionately high amount of students come from high-income families. There's also little all else to do in the place. While there is the Gala theatre and cinema, it's not that big, and doesn't offer a great range, and if you want to see any live music or similar, you have to go Newcastle where there are no cheap ways to get home after a certain time at night. The alcohol issue aside, a bigger problem is that the whole area in which these tragic instances occurred are part of a World Heritage Site, and there seems to be some real reluctance to put up quite a simple prevention measure: railings or fences. Yes, I know it would be easier if the students didn't drink to excess, but that's not going to happen any time soon.
I have lived in Durham for the bulk of my 39 years on this planet and I cannot recall any run of incidents like this. unfortunately the common link is alcohol. To blame high alcohol consumption on the fact that these students live in a small city which lacks large live music venues and multiplex cinemas leaving students with little else to do other than drink is ludicrous. These students are no longer kids, they are adults who as a collective need to start taking responsibility for their actions. The comment above that states that a fairly simple form of prevention would be the installation of fences or railings is also unrealistic. The area of riverbank where these deaths have occurred covers four miles of riverbank. Four miles of continual railings let alone a fence would absolutely ruin the look of Durham's natural riverbank and give no guarantee that it would stop anybody from climbing over or falling through them. I am very proud to come from Durham City and love being a part of a university town but this problem can only be resolved by the university and the students themselves. There will always be drinking in university towns, fact, and I wouldn't want that to be stopped but something must be done to better educate these students on the potential consequences. You would have thought that three deaths in fourteen months may have been a fairly good deterrent but this was obviously not the case with another student being pulled out of the river last week with no memory of what had happened. We have seen very successful, hard hitting, graphic advertising campaigns for drink driving over the past few years which have had proven success rates. Perhaps its time for the university to approach a professional organisation to create a campaign that is shown to every student through lectures or tutorials alongside other mediums within colleges, student clubs and residential areas. I don't want to see any more needless deaths within Durham but fencing isn't the answer. I hope that the university follow through on their promises to address this issue and ensure that it is a message that reaches not only the current crop of students but is built into the day to day education of students in Durham for years to come.

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