Two teenage boys who drowned in Perth’s Swan River after running away from officers died as a result of their own “dangerous decision” but a coroner has still made three recommendations for West Australian Police.
The boys were among a group of five who were seen jumping fences when two uniformed police officers gave chase in Maylands on September 10, 2018.
One boy stopped at the river, while another kept running and three teenagers ventured into the water, which was extremely cold and had a strong current.
Masters Drage, 16, and Ninyette-Simpson, 17, got into trouble about halfway across and could not be saved by two Tactical Response Group officers who happened to be in the area and jumped into the water.
The other boy was plucked out of the river by another officer.
A coronial inquest was held to examine whether the deaths were caused, or contributed to, by the actions of police.
In findings published this week, Coroner Philip Urquhart said he did not think the boys’ decision to enter the water was “completely spontaneous”, adding it appeared to be their plan from the start of the police chase.
“Given the weather conditions and the width of the river, this was a dangerous and very risky undertaking to attempt,” he said.
“There would have been no comprehension or appreciation of the treacherous conditions that existed at that part of the Swan River until the group reached the riverbank.
“Regrettably, the initial decision was then implemented with a catastrophic outcome.”
The coroner also noted the boys might have had a false sense of security about the conditions when they initially entered the water.
He concluded their deaths were an accident.
Mr Urquhart said the actions of the two inexperienced police officers chasing the boys was “a causational contribution” to their deaths, but he made no criticism of them and said their actions were “appropriate at all times”.
Mr Urquhart also said the two TRG officers who tried to save the boys were courageous.
“It was heartening to see the gratitude and respect that the families of Master Drage and Master Simpson have extended to the two tactical operators who tried so desperately to save their loved ones,” he said.
Master Drage’s body was found on the night of the incident and Master Simpson’s body was recovered the following morning.
Hundreds of mourners gathered at the site to honour the boys after their tragic deaths shocked the WA community.
THE CORONER’S THREE RECOMMENDATIONS:
- Wherever possible, all probationary constables be partnered with an officer who has at least one year of post-probationary experience for operational duties;
- All officers with operational duties receive an induction when posted to an area for the first time that includes identifying the boundaries and significant physical, demographic, cultural and socio-economic features; and
- To strengthen relationships between police and Aboriginal people, newly promoted constables should undertake immersive, face-to-face cultural awareness training.