STUDENT Tom Jones may have gone towards the river in which he drowned after hearing a cry for help, an inquest heard.

The 18-year-old disappeared in the early hours of September 19 last year, just days after starting at the University of Worcester, with his body then being found in the River Severn on September 28.

Coroner Geraint Williams, who became overwhelmed with emotion during the 30-minute hearing at Worcestershire Coroners Court on Tuesday (January 22), said a post mortem had given the cause of death as drowning.

Whilst looking at a photo of Tom, Mr Williams cried before composing himself to say: “I’ve been doing this job for 30 years and it still gets me.”

The 14-page autopsy report, compiled by pathologist Dr Charlotte Randall, showed Tom, of Samsara Road, Bromsgrove, had roughly the same amount of alcohol in his system as someone twice over the drink drive limit. 

Blood and urine samples were taken and a toxicology analysis said the level of alcohol in his blood would have led to “significant intoxication in a social drinker”.

A chemical was also found which “indicates that he had traces of cocaine in his system” but that it was a “very low concentration” which was likely consumed through “passive inhalation” or through “inadvertent contact”, said Mr Williams.

Addressing Tom’s parents, Ian and Vicki Jones, the coroner said the report “indicates no evidence of any pre-existing natural disease that could have contributed to your son ending up in the river”.

He said there was also no evidence of any third-party involvement in the incident.

PC Chris Buffery told the inquest, investigating officers had two theories as to how Tom may have found himself in the River Severn but emphasised these were “only speculative”.  

The first is that he had “gone to the river to use the toilet” and with “no barrier between the water and bank” he fell into the river.

The second relates to a “shout for help” which was picked up by the BBC Hereford & Worcester building’s CCTV audio, on Hylton Road

PC Buffery said Tom’s parents, having listened to the audio, confirmed it was not their son’s voice.

The officer said perhaps Tom also “heard that shout and has gone to the bank to see if anyone was in need of assistance and has become a person in need himself”.

Mr Williams said: “Sadly, there is no evidence as to precisely what he was doing, and I can’t make any definitive about that fact.” 

However, he said he favoured the second hypothesis, because, having heard a great deal about Tom’s character, he believed he would have tried to help someone he thought was “distressed”.

He theorised that he went down to the river’s edge and “slipped or fell” while the amount of alcohol in his system “may have debilitated him”. 

Referring to the traces of cocaine, he said: “None of that would have played any part whatsoever.”

Mr Williams said, however Tom ended up in the river, he “would have died very quickly”.

The coroner, in summarising Tom’s known movements and activities in the hours before he went missing, said he had been “socialising and consumed alcohol” and at some point, walked home alone.

“Although CCTV places him at certain points at certain times, which is corroborated with data from his mobile phone, there comes a stage he passes out of range of any cameras.”

Tom was picked up by the BBC’s cameras and those at the Worcester News, but the next one, some 100 metres along Hylton Road, does not capture him, said the coroner. 

“On the same camera other people are seen passing one camera and appearing on the next,” he explained, theorising that it is “at that point he entered the water”. 

“There’s no evidence of third party or wrongdoing. There’s no evidence to suggest anything at all,” he continued.

“Mr Jones probably went down to urinate or because CCTV audio showed someone calling for help and he has gone down to the river to see if he could assist.”

Mr Williams went on to say: “In terms of the conclusion, in order to reach any of the usual conclusions, evidence is required, and I have to be satisfied by that evidence more likely than not to be true.

“I must think about all various conclusions. We don’t have any sufficient conclusions for me to say [whether it was an] accident or anything else. 

“I think likely that your boy heard someone calling for help and went to help but slipped and fell in. 

“There isn’t any evidence about what happened on the riverbank.”
Mr Williams gave an open conclusion. 

Having summarised, he addressed Mr and Mrs Jones to say: “I am older than you are, please do not think this impertinent – this will never go away for you.

“But it gets easier to live with and that is all we can hope for. Please
accept my condolences.”

In a short statement to the press following the inquest, Tom’s dad Ian, who requested he and his family were not photographed or videoed, said: “We accept the findings and conclusion from today’s hearing. 

“The past few months have been unbearably difficult trying to come to terms with life without Tom. 

“And we very much appreciate the overwhelming support and respect from all involved, including the media, during this time. 

“And trust this will remain whilst we continue to rebuild our lives and work around the devastating loss of Tom.”

Detective Inspector Tony Garner who led the missing person investigation, said: "Tom's death has affected the community and all of the officers involved in the case deeply.

"Today was understandably an emotional day for Tom's family and our sympathies remain with his family and friends."