January is a danger time for drowning according to the Royal Life Saving Society, which runs the #DontDrinkandDrown campaign. Jane Bostock talks to Janet Regan about the tragic loss of Janet’s brother seven years ago.
Janet Regan has become used to the questions about her brother’s untimely death.
“But nobody ever asks me what he was like,” she says. When the story looms as heavily and as tragic as this one, the person gets lost in favour of the chain of events.
“John was a quiet guy, but popular,” she continues. “Reserved. But when you got to know him, he was hilarious. He did not need to fill the space, he was quietly confident and assured. He was generous and kind, he would do anything for his friends. He was loved very much.
“It was seven years ago. I was living in Barcelona with my partner and my eight-month-old child. My sister messaged to call home a couple of days after his disappearance. People were not initially concerned about his no-show.”
Perhaps, they thought, he was nursing the mother of all hangovers. Maybe he met someone and went home with them. Things not unheard of for a single 30-something. It was when John failed to come in to work, where he was a sports analyst, that people started to worry.
John had returned from a trip to Miami the day before, gone out with mates in Camden and got drunk. He was turned away from a bar and became separated from the rest of the group.
Janet says his friends, colleagues and family knew something was wrong and so the frantic calling around and posting on social media began. Missing People was involved in publicising his disappearance and the police appealed for information. As the days grew, search parties and divers scoured the canal but found nothing.
His family contacted businesses and properties which had CCTV for any clue as to where John headed after being turned away at the bar. It was a struggle to get any footage for ages and then, to add to the frustration, many cameras were either not recording on the night or not working at all.
Eventually, some footage was found. There was John walking towards the canal looking drunk. Janet was still in Barcelona and had just finished work when she received a message from her sister.
“As soon as my sister texted to tell me about the footage, I knew something bad had happened,” she said. “I took a flight home, expecting the worst news upon my arrival. The divers were searching the canal while I was in the air but they had not found him. It was weird, because where could he be?”
The police staged a reconstruction exactly a week after John disappeared and by sheer coincidence officers involved in that reconstruction found his body. They think it took so long to locate because he may have trapped under a boat and was only visible once that had moved on. By this time, he had been missing a week. And that was it: his life, which had hinged on a simple decision, was over.
Janet adds: “The funeral was a surreal experience; my little brother. We were all in shock. In that year, within a six-month period I had a baby, lost my brother and my father also passed away. I often look at photos from that Christmas and wonder how we look so normal.
“I returned to Barcelona; I needed to take my mind off what had happened, go back to work, surround myself with familiar faces. I just went into autopilot. I guess it was a coping strategy. That year was such a traumatic time, I am definitely a different person because of it.”
Heartbreakingly, it was discovered that John had more than enough cash on him to allow for getting a taxi home safely. Such an unnecessary end to a life yet to be lived, a family yet to be had, a future never realised. He had just turned 30.
“We are very clear about drinking and driving being a bad idea, socially unacceptable even; you wouldn’t let your mate do it. Why shouldn’t the same be said for drinking and being near water?” Janet asks. “Get a cab, stay in a group.”
John’s school friends still meet every year to remember him, and every year they grow older, with partners and children. John will never have that. That pain is hard to bear.
“My children are young, but the impact of John’s death is present. They are very clear about the dangers of water and how, when they are old enough, to avoid taking the same risks.”
According to the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS), in a quarter of all adult drownings the victims have alcohol in their bloodstream. In the 18 to 21-year-old group, a third of drowning victims have alcohol in their bloodstream.
Information from the Water Incident Database (WAID) suggests most drownings happen on a Saturday, and 40 per cent happen over the weekend. Summertime sees the most drownings, followed by January. A majority of drink drowning victims are young males, with danger spots being the coast, harbours, canals, rivers and lakes.
And while we might all have done it, got drunk, peeled off and ended up staggering home solo, Janet’s plea is to look out for each other. Especially when intoxicated near water, be it a seaside, canal, marina or river.
When we are drunk we think we are invincible, we take risks we would ordinarily avoid, our perception and judgement is skewed. So the message is clear: drink and be merry, but don’t mix with water and if you have to, make sure you are not alone.8333 Views
A human, like you.