Student Charley Gadd who went missing after a night out in Manchester with his parents died in the River Irwell in a tragic accident, an inquest has found.
Senior coroner for Manchester South Alison Mutch recorded a verdict of accidental death and said she was extremely sorry to hear of what happened to Charley.
Charley’s devastated parents, who attended the inquest via a video link, said it was a tragic situation and spoke of how proud they were of their son.
What happened to Charley Gadd?
The inquest heard that Charley, together with his parents Jolyon and Kimberley, travelled to Manchester to watch a concert together on Friday 10 December last year and enjoyed watching the music.
They took a taxi back to the hotel and then headed out to a supermarket in search of something to eat.
Jolyon told the inquest that Charley ran off when they got out of the taxi but he caught up with him a couple of blocks away after he had fallen over. He said Charley seemed to find the incident and how out of breath his father was funny and they walked back together laughing arm in arm.
However, Jolyon said when he emerged from the supermarket at around 1.10am on Saturday 11 December Charley was nowhere to be seen.
Jolyon and Kimberley searched for him for several hours before eventually retiring to their hotel, hoping he would turn up in the morning. He did not do so and at 11.54am on the Saturday Jolyon and Kimberley rang the police and reported Charley missing.
Following high-profile public appeals for information and a huge police operation, Charley’s body was found in the River Irwell close to MediaCity in Salford on 10 January this year.
What did the police investigation find?
Police coroner’s officer David Wood told the inquest that Greater Manchester Police (GMP) trawled CCTV footage from across the city to piece together what happened to Charley in the final few hours of his life.
He was seen running onto Exchange Street and into St Anne’s Square before cameras recorded him crossing Deansgate towards King Street West.
He then came back on himself slightly before going towards St Mary’s Parsonage and then entering an area at the back of Alberton House where there is a small car park overlooking the River Irwell.
Mr Wood told the inquest Charley crossed the car park at around 1.18am on Saturday 11 December and was not seen to leave.
He said that behind the barriers at the back of the car park was an extremely steep drop into the Irwell but Charley could not possibly have known the water was there.
Mr Wood said: “This would have been dark, the car park would have been unlit, and this area would have been very, very quiet at this time because it is a business area.
“Police have been able to find almost the exact point because one of his shoes was found along the bank.
“There was nothing to suggest he meant to go into the river.”
Mr Wood said bright lights from the opposite bank, where The Lowry stands, would have been visible to Charley and this may have added to his confusion.
The police investigation found no evidence of suspicious circumstances and a post-mortem investigation found no injuries on Charley’s body, with a pathologist giving the cause of death as presumed drowning. A toxicology report said the alcohol levels in his blood and urine were consistent with drinking on a night out.
Jolyon told the inquest: “There was nothing we could do about it. We looked for him but as we know now 15 minutes later it was already too late.”
Charley’s parents praised GMP, saying the force had acted in an “exemplary” and “excellent” way in its efforts to find Charley and support them and the family was “very grateful”.
An intelligent young man with ambitions to work in film
The inquest heard that Charley, who was born in Chelmsford in Essex, was an intelligent young man who had done well at school in his GCSEs and BTEC qualifications and harboured an ambition to work in the film industry.
In both years at university he had been chosen to direct the project his fellow students would then work on.
His parents said the whole family had a shared love of music and before the ill-fated Manchester trip they had been to see concerts together at Wembley Arena and Brighton.
Jolyon said: “The Manchester trip turned out tragically but it was the same situation as before. We just loved going to see music together.”
Jolyon also said Charley had always had part-time jobs during his student life and had also been planning to work abroad this summer.
He said: “He was an amazing boy, very proactive. He was very much looking forwards to the future.
“He packed a huge amount into an unfortunately tragically-short life. I couldn’t be prouder of him,”
His parents told the court how a local church was packed to the rafters for Charley’s memorial service. “The vicar had never seen it so full,” his father said.
A truly tragic set of circumstances
Ms Mutch recorded the cause of death as drowning and gave a verdict of accidental death, giving Charley’s date of death as 11 December 2021.
She paid tribute to him and offered warm condolences to his family.
Ms Mutch said: “I am so sad and sorry that such a bright young future was thwarted in this way, There was nothing any of us could have done to change the outcome. It’s just one of those tragic accidents that sometimes life has, but how awful it is for you and your other children.
“Charley certainly burned very bright for the short time he was part of your family, although I can tell he will always be part of your family.
“This is just such a sad situation. Charley’s family have lost a beloved son and brother and he was a well-respected and liked friend.
“He was so very close to his parents with whom he clearly had a very loving relationship.
“It’s clear that on the night in question Charley ran off suddenly and became completely disorientated in a city he was unfamiliar with.
“I can only imagine the anguish his parents must have felt that night trying to look for Charley, expecting him to turn up at the hotel the following morning and wondering what on earth to do.
“A very short time after he was last seen Charley went into the River Irwell at a point where it was almost impossible for him to get out.
“I am absolutely satisfied that it was a complete accident when Charley entered the water. It was nobody’s fault. It was just a series of pieces of bad luck that he ended up in that car park.
“He would have been able to see the bright lights on the other side of the bank but had no idea there was a river between him and those bright lights.
“I am sorry that we will never know what Charley could have become.”