A teenager whose body was found submerged in the River Wye by divers after he had gone missing during the Royal Welsh Show died as a result of being suddenly immersed in cold water, an inquest has found.
James Corfield, of Montgomery Young Farmers’ Club, was last seen at the White Horse pub in Builth Wells, Powys, in the early hours of Tuesday 25 last year.
He was captured on CCTV at the members’ bar the following night, then on a minibus into town, and finally, at 11.56pm, walking across a car park in Builth Wells, having left the pub, where he had spent time dancing and having a good time, according to friends whose statements were read to the inquest.
Mr Corfield’s family raised the alarm at around 2pm on July 25 when he failed to meet them as arranged.
The 19-year-old’s body was found in the River Wye five days later, but an inquest into his death heard a post-mortem examination found no direct evidence that he had drowned and that his medical cause of death remained a mystery.
Mr Corfield’s mother Louise told the coroner at Welshpool Magistrates’ Court that she did not believe her son would ever have “voluntarily entered” the water.
The hearing was told there was no evidence of foul play or any other explanation for Mr Corfield’s death.
Pathologist Richard Jones said there was also no evidence of Mr Corfield being assaulted and said he could have died because of physiological problems related to a person being suddenly immersed in cold water, including hyperventilation and changes in heart rate, which he said were “very often fatal”.
Dr Jones said there was no evidence about whether Mr Corfield had died in the water or out of it, or from any heart condition, and he could not give a medical cause of death.
If the totality of the evidence suggests that James did enter the water and died in the water, the immersion is the best description of how he died in the water, rather than drowning – which, as we discussed, describes the breathing in of water, which may not actually be the problem.
The inquest heard Mr Corfield, a keen cricketer, had been camping with friends at the show, one of the largest in Europe, after going there on Sunday July 23.
Inspector Andrew Pitt, who led the search efforts, said initially Mr Corfield’s disappearance was treated as low risk before being upgraded later that day after interviews with his friends failed to reveal the teenager’s whereabouts.
He said he focused the search on the river because of its proximity to the bar.
Firefighters, dog units, boat teams, mountain rescuers, police officers from Dyfed-Powys, South Wales and Devon and Cornwall Police forces were joined by hundreds of volunteers in the search for the missing teenager.
His body was found submerged in the River Wye by divers on July 30 at around midday near to the confluence of the Rivers Wye and Irfon, in 3ft of water around 2,000ft from where he was last seen.
The only thing I can say for certain is that James hasn’t entered the river from a lower point from where he’s found.
I believe the most likely scenario is that he had tried to cross the river where the Wye and Irfon meet, possibly realising that he was on the wrong side (of the river).
Answering questions about why it took so long to find Mr Corfield, Inspector Pitt said he believed the teenager’s body may have been in a deep pool near the confluence before moving into the shallower water, where it was found.
He said there was “no credible information” that there had been third party involvement in Mr Corfield’s death.
The inquest heard Mr Corfield’s blood alcohol level was 150mg per 100ml, the legal drink drive limit being 80mg per 100ml – but that some of that may have been produced after death.
Mrs Corfield said her son was “very much involved” in the business on the family farm and farming was “his whole life”.
In another statement read to the inquest, a family friend said Mr Corfield was a “brilliant, talented, caring and respected” young man, who was hard-working and had big ambitions for his farming career.
Coroner Andrew Barkley said he believed Mr Corfield died in the water and in circumstances that were not clear.
He said it was possible he decided to cross the river, though the family vehemently denied this was a possibility, or that he stumbled and fell.
“I am acutely aware that the family are tormented by the lack of detail,” he said.
Mr Barkley concluded that the death was accidental.
He said Mr Corfield was an “extremely talented” and entrepreneurial young man who was strong academically and in sports and was the “perfect son and brother”.