The death of three “bright young things”

By wear riverbank1

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily of Palatinate.

It is almost two months since the death of Euan Coulthard and since then four more people have fallen into the river. Yet, there are still no fences. We must ask ourselves the question, why is there so much resistance to implementing simple preventative measures? I believe this resistance can be found in the statement made by the Chief Constable of Durham Mike Barton, which has gone largely unquestioned.

The Chief Constable argued that the reason for the deaths of Euan Coulthard, Luke Pearce and Sope Peters was the fact that all three students were “paralytically drunk”. This is simply not the case. The inquest into Luke Pearce’s death concluded he was not “incapable” when he fell into the river and died ie. he was not “paralytically drunk” as Barton would have us believe. The inquest into Euan Coulthard’s death has just begun, therefore his comments are untimely and unprofessional. It is strange that he has decided to label these students as “paralytically drunk” when this is simply not the case.

This lack of sensitivity is furthered by his description of Durham students as “bright young things”. The phrase bright young things was first coined in the 1920s to describe young hedonistic and frivolous aristocrats and socialites. Does his disclose an unfair preconception he holds for Durham students? The Police have a duty to protect all citizens of the community regardless of class or age. He must be called to acknowledge that the students of Durham University are part of the Durham community and therefore are a sector of the population that he has a duty to protect. Many students will note a hostility some locals have for our presence and this is another example of it.

To leave his comments unquestioned is to allow these students to be remembered as irresponsible, ‘paralytic drunks’ who were ultimately to blame for their deaths when this is simply not the case. This is unfair representation and thus, an injustice.  He seems to have no consideration for the grieving families and friends.

The deaths of Euan Coulthard, Luke Pearce and Sope Peters all had one thing in common. They were all trying to get home after a night of socialising with friends in licensed premises, which remains a lawful activity. Socialising and drinking are not behaviours exclusive to students. Therefore, we should question his decision to pick out student drinking rather than the drinking culture at large. His views on student drinking seem to be at odds with his previously published views on Class A drugs which he believes should be legalised. Again, another reason to believe he has an unfair preconception about the students of Durham University

It is also worth noting that he rules out the erection of a fence alongside the river but, as I am sure he would know, this is not a concern of the Police but rather one for the local authority. His adamancy is therefore simply bizarre.  I have also noticed that the Durham Police force is backing the council’s initiative to install additional CCTV cameras to combat fly tipping, but is reluctant to install CCTV cameras around the riverbanks, even though this might assist in saving lives or at least locating bodies (it took five weeks to find Sope Peters’ body). Of course, I acknowledge that there is no direct financial advantage for the Council or Police force in locating or finding bodies.

Students are often portrayed in a negative light. Therefore, I think it is of the utmost importance that the Chief Constable be held accountable for his comments. He is making a direct attack on the integrity of the student body by branding us as irresponsible. Support from all members of the Durham community to make Durham a safer place is much needed, therefore his comments are simply unacceptable, highly inconsistent and are a cause for concern.

At the current time it seems as though students are being blamed for this series of unfortunate events, the fact that a petition of over 10,000 signatures can be met with such resistance is another example of this.

I fear that the culture of blame, or the ‘student shaming’ that seems to be appearing, unfairly brands students as irresponsible and ultimately to blame for any injury they may acquire from falling into the river. The readiness of the Chief Constable of Durham to suggest that it is a student drinking culture to blame for the deaths implies he has no desire to look at the matter in its entirety. This means that if a student falls into the river, the first question will not be how can we prevent it, or how did they fall, but will be a question of their integrity instead.  One must remember all we are asking for is fencing around the river to stop people from drowning to death. Who knew such a simple request would be met with such resistance.


Perhaps you disagree with this article. Palatinate firmly believes in your freedom of speech, so email with your take.

20 thoughts on “The death of three “bright young things”

  • The debate around this issue continues to astonish me. What I am seeing is a body of students at the 5th best university in the UK steadfastly defending their right to drink themselves stupid with impunity. The fact that Durham’s Chief Constable has so much as dared to ask these “bright young things” to consider whether they might just be drinking a problematic amount of alcohol has this writer, one among thousands of students, up in arms. “This means that if a student falls into the river, the first question will not be how can we prevent it, or how did they fall, but will be a question of their integrity instead.” For f**k’s sake, YES! We’re paying good money to be taught how to think critically, and you have the gall to suggest that this is an either/or matter of which question we’re asking? YES, goddamn right it’s a question of integrity; it’s a question of how you can claim to be a proud member of a world class university, and simultaneously refuse to accept that you are perpetuating a student drinking culture that has contributed to these deaths. “How can we prevent it?” and “Did this student drink too much?” are NOT mutually exclusive questions. And how dare you pull that “…after a night of socialising with friends in licensed premises, which remains a lawful activity” bullshit. Have an independent thought. Realize that the legality of something is not a god-given endorsement of behaviour, or a doctor’s note telling you that, yes, this is absolutely good for your health. Students are hardly being portrayed in a negative light here. If anything, we’re being faced with the disappointment of a society that expects us, those with the means to pursue an education and further ourselves in this world, to be responsible, driven, self-reflective proponents of our community. Instead, as they express concern for our behaviour and prompt us to reflect on the change we ought to enact within our own ranks we have responded with petty displays of shaming, semantics, and the ridiculous suggestion that it is the community’s responsibility to coddle and protect us so we can have our fun. Shame on us.

    • You don’t like semantics so we’ll discuss the facts. The fact is; a fence may well have prevented deaths. The fact is, the local authority have yet to put up a fence. It is common sense that a fence should be erected. You seem to forget people have died, this is not just an excuse for you to air your dislike for students and what you consider their shameful behaviours.

    • I am a student; been one for five years now. I’ve got a love for our culture, our enthusiasm, and the love for life we can bring to a community. I also have zero patience for students who are naive enough to lay the responsibility for their entirely controllable actions at the feet of public authority and say, “Our deaths our making us look bad; please fix it.” I come from a city where all our pubs and clubs, the entire student drinking scene, is beside a lake. Nobody, to my memory, has ever drowned in that lake having fallen in after a rowdy night, because frankly if students back home drank the way students here do their friends would step in and tell them they’ve crossed a line.

  • As a yak on yik yak so eloquently puts it, ‘Zero policemen hanging around outside lloydshack last night, no victimisation there then’
    Shameful police behaviour. If there’s no antagonism against students, explain me that.

  • Accidents or serial killer? Strongly enough there has been a number of death’s associated with manchester ship channel and students. So much so a professor of Brimingham uni had suggest a serial killer is at work.

  • Great article. But why the passive aggressive comments encouraging people to disagree on either side? Stand for something, Palatinate, and get behind students on this issue

  • I am very pleased with how much discussion these river safety articles have promoted – awareness is, after all, the best preventative measure for future tragedies.

    However, there seem to be a huge number of students who believe that erecting an unspecified amount fencing will solve the problem once and for all, without having considered either the feasibility of putting up such a huge amount of fencing, or the just how effective fencing would actually be.

    Whilst there does appear to be a dire need for fencing in some of the more treacherous parts of the riverbank close to the city centre, where it can be dangerously dark and slippery, I would like to tentatively suggest that it is perhaps not as simple a case as ‘fences = good, no fences = bad’. I have discussed the issue at length in this article I wrote some weeks back

  • yeah come on guys stop jumping on the ‘everyone else is to blame except the person themselves.’ bandwagon that seems to be rife in todays society. If people who are supposed to be very intelligent can’t stop themselves falling in a river then what hope is there for the future of our society. Get a grip and be responsible adults.

  • Whilst I agree that the deaths of these students is absolutely tragic and more needs to be done to try to prevent such things happening again, I entirely disagree that putting fencing up along a riverbank that has in the past few years severely flooded on several occasions is the right way to go about it. It is just not sustainable. What would probably be more effective, and much more sustainable, is a student-targeted drink-/river-safety campaign.

  • This article is all over the place. It calls attention to the fact that student drinking culture was singled out when drinking in pubs and clubs is legal to all adults. Instead of immediately falling back on some silly ‘locals don’t like students’ nonsense, perhaps the author of this article might have liked to consider that all of the people that have died have been students, and that it is part of the job of the police to identify factors linking repeated incidents. In addition, if the legality of an activity is what makes your decision as to whether it is a safe, sensible and appropriate thing to do, then I wish you every luck with that approach, and you’ll probably need it. The fact that it’s suggested that the chief constable’s comments are at odds with his views on the legalisation of class A drugs seems like the exact opposite conclusion than should be drawn. His entire argument is that more emphasis should be put on individual responsibility than reliance on authority to enforce rules. Surely that’s in direct agreement with his views on drugs. Either way, it saddens me that the response to his comments has been so incredibly negative. Perhaps if fewer people took such knee-jerk anti-police stances on the whole thing the minute they were told that it isn’t feasible to cover the riverbank in fences we might be able to actually have a discussion on the issue.

  • While I agree that his choice of words was not ideal, in that they have clearly offended some people, I don’t think they were intended to be particularly offensive, and I certainly agree with the underlying message to those words – that it’s important to take responsibility for our own actions and to explore more socially oriented solutions, such as taking care of our friends and ourselves in these situations, rather than immediately deciding that a fence is the only solution and that, by opposing it, the police are being callous and insensitive.

    • Regardless of what you think about river safety, the comments he made were offensive. I don’t think the chief constable should be allowed to make such a comment and it be left unquestioned. His comments were antagonistic (why do you believe that his comments were not intended to be offensive? surely the use of the phrase bright ,young things contradicts your belief?) and he should be held accountable for the comments made. The comments showed a lack of consideration for the grieving friends and families and is unacceptable.However, I am baffled that after 15,000 people sign a petition to improve river safety we are still in the same position we were before these events. I cannot understand why there is so much reluctance to put other safety measures in place, such as fences in the places that need it and better lighting.


Leave a Reply to Kevin Tang on Facebook Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.