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Canal boat resident drowned in River Thames, inquest hears


Aug 5, 2022

A car bodyworker drowned after falling from his canal boat while drunk.

Oxford Coroner’s Court heard that forensic tests showed Marc Wilson was the equivalent of four times the legal drink-drive limit.

The 49-year-old’s body had been pulled from the River Thames near Folly Bridge, Oxford, on January 19 – 11 days after he was last seen and four days after he was reported as missing.

At an inquest into his death on Wednesday, family members and a close friend questioned why the police had not sent blood swabs taken from railings near his moored narrowboat off for analysis, checked a CCTV camera on the boat or investigated why some of his belongings were apparently missing from the vessel.

Close friend Sally Taylor told senior coroner Darren Salter: “It is a bit disappointing [that] because he’s an alcoholic, things that should have been investigated weren’t.”

The inquest heard that former car bodyworker Mr Wilson had moved from Reading to Oxford, where he lived on his narrowboat ‘Nat and Mrs Woman’. His friend, Sally, had urged him against living on the river, fearful that with his alcoholism it ‘was not a good idea’.

On January 8, the last day he was seen, CCTV captured him buying a bottle of vodka, Lucozade, a packet of facemasks and cigarettes from the Tesco Metro in St Aldates at around 4.30pm.

Shortly before 6pm that day, he was admitted to A&E at the John Radcliffe Hospital, having struck his head after falling into the river.

There was no record of when he was discharged from hospital. However, he last used his bank card to buy more vodka from Tesco at 10.22pm that evening. CCTV footage confirmed it was Mr Wilson.

Oxford Mail: Marc Wilson was last seen leaving Tesco at 10.22pm on January 8 Picture: TVPMarc Wilson was last seen leaving Tesco at 10.22pm on January 8 Picture: TVP

He was reported missing on January 15 by a friend, who had seen Mr Wilson’s boat was unsecured.

Having initially marked Mr Wilson as a ‘low risk’ missing person, the categorisation was increased after January 17.

On January 19, a specialist police search officer and Environment Agency staff were using sonar to check the riverbed. The missing man’s body was found and recovered.

Following a post-mortem, the cause of death was given as drowning.

DC Charlotte Oliver, the officer in the case, said swabs were taken of blood found on railings near Mr Wilson’s boat. They were never submitted for analysis, she told the inquest. “We didn’t believe it was necessary to test and it wouldn’t be done as a matter of routine in an investigation like this.”

Oxford Mail: A police van behind the Head of the River pub on the day Mr Wilson's body was discovered Picture: OMA police van behind the Head of the River pub on the day Mr Wilson's body was discovered Picture: OM

She was asked by the coroner whether ‘what might have happened a few days after his going missing’ had been looked into by the police.

“No, it hasn’t been looked into,” she replied. “I was not aware there was a problem post-his death. I know that there was a lot of police activity around the time of him going missing to when he was found. However, I wasn’t aware until recently that there were items potentially that had gone missing.”

Senior coroner Darren Salter recorded a conclusion of accidental death. He said it was ‘probable’ that Mr Wilson had fallen into the river and there was no evidence of third party involvement in his death.

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This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.

To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward