Dad drowns in front of son after swimming across pond ‘to impress him’

A dad-of-two drowned in a pond in front of his son after telling him “I bet I could swim that”, an inquest heard.

Lee Ainsley, 54, was trying to swim across the pond in a bid to ‘impress’ his son, Dwayn Sutherland, when he suddenly went beneath the water and didn’t resurface.

Lee’s son, who was recording video on his phone, waded into the water and tried to rescue his dad, whose body was found about four hours later during the search of the water behind a housing estate in Radcliffe, Greater Manchester.

Dwayn had told his dad “don’t be stupid, you’re off your head” when Lee decided he was going to try to swim across the pond and started taking his clothes off on April 5, the Manchester Evening News reports.

The divorced father and adult son were sitting on a bench near a lodge at about 1pm that day, an inquest at Rochdale Coroners Court heard on Monday.

Lee, a roofer by trade who had long struggled with alcohol addiction, had been drinking heavily that day. A post-mortem found he was three times the legal drink-drive limit.

A quantity of amphetamines were detected in his blood found, though it is not believed that they were significant enough to contribute to his death.

There was evidence Dwayn had been drinking before seeing his dad, said Assistant Coroner for Manchester North Julie Robertson.

Dwayn later told police his dad told him “I bet I could swim that” and started taking his boots off.

He added: “I said ‘don’t be stupid, you’re off your head’.

“He entered into the water and started to swim to the other side. I wasn’t sure if he was a strong swimmer.”

Raymond Catherall, the live-in carer for Lee’s mother Pauline, came across the pair while walking to a supermarket, and tried to stop Lee from entering the pond.

Raymond told police: “Lee said, ‘I’ll show you how fit I am’, I said ‘don’t do that, you could drown’.”

Dwayn recorded video on his phone as he dad “confidently swam to the centre of the lodge.

Raymond left because it appeared Lee was “quite capable” of completing the swim.

However, Lee disappeared under the water about 10ft from the embankment, his son told police.

Dwayn, who leaped into the water in a desperate bid to save Lee, said: “All of a sudden, his head just went under the water and I couldn’t see him.

“I tried to look for him but I could see or feel him. I was searching for around four or five minutes, then I called the emergency services.”

Witness Charlotte Womack, who had earlier seen the men “laughing and joking around”, called the emergency services as she watched from her flat.

She said: “He appeared to tire out quickly. His arms were moving, but he wasn’t making much progress. Then his head fully went underwater.

“The other man was laughing and joking initially, but then he became panicked and distressed, shouting for his dad.”

Lee’s body was recovered about four hours later.

A post-mortem found he had died by drowning. It is believed he lost muscular coordination due to the cold water and alcohol in his system – both sapping his ability to swim.

A statement from his son said: “Lee was a people person who loved life and was at his happiest when he was making people laugh.”

He had spoken about ending his life in the past, but it is not believed this was his intention when he waded into the water.

Ms Robertson determined that Lee was simply trying to show off in front of his son at the time of the tragedy.

She said:”It appears to me that what happened is that Lee had consumed quite a significant quantity of alcohol when he decided to go into the water.

“His son had consumed alcohol which might have added to the decision.

“It was initially seen as something fun to do with an element of bravado, showing off in front of his son. Dwayn quickly realised Lee wasn’t quite as strong a swimmer as he thought.

“Despite Dwayn’s best effort, he wasn’t able to rescue his father and, despite an extensive search, emergency services could not find him.

“I don’t think the police or ambulance service could have done anything further. North West Ambulance Service had graded the call category one, the highest level of seriousness, and dispatched ambulances as soon as they could.

“Sadly there were difficulties in searching this stretch of water.”

Lee’s death was concluded to be an accident by the coroner, who said: “While there has been mention of Lee’s state of mind, having talked about previous attempts to end his own life, it doesn’t feature in the circumstances of what happened here. I don’t even think it’s a possibility.

“It is a decision Lee made of his own volition to get into the water. It was very hot weather at the time of year. It may have been that he went into the water to cool off or show off in front of his son. This instance is one of an accident.”

Addressing the family, Ms Robertson added: “I can’t imagine how difficult it is for you as a family to move on from this. I’m sure you have many questions that the evidence doesn’t answer, but I hope this process has given some answers.

“It is such a tragedy.”

Lee’s family told the Manchester Evening News: “Lee had the biggest smile and lit up the room. He is forever loved and always missed – always in our hearts.”