YOUNG revellers in the Yorkshire city where student Megan Roberts died after falling into a river are leaving themselves vulnerable by “pre-loading” on alcohol before they go on nights out, a senior safety official has said.
Many young people going out in York are already drunk by the time they reach the city centre and are more likely than before to be drinking high-strength alcohol at home, according to Jane Mowat, director of the Safer York Partnership.
The organisation, which works to reduce crime and disorder in York, says it is renewing its focus on improving safety at night around the city’s rivers after the death of York St John University student Ms Roberts.
The body of the 20-year-old from Wetherby was found in the River Ouse on March 2, several weeks after she is thought to have fallen in while under the influence of alcohol on a night out.
Police have also been searching the city’s River Foss for 22-year-old Ben Clarkson, who has not been seen since going out on a night out with friends on March 1.
Julia Mulligan, Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, has today called an urgent ‘river safety summit’ after what she describes as “the devastating events in York over recent weeks, as well as incidents more historically”.
And Ms Mowat said the Safer York Partnership would be asking the Street Angels, a team of volunteers who patrol the city centre on a Friday and Saturday night, to increase their presence near riverside premises.
She said the city was unique in having a number of paths back to residential areas running alongside rivers and that the rivers themselves were easy to access.
But she said a big problem being tackled by local authorities was the tendency for young revellers to “pre-load” with alcohol before going out.
She said: “The average young person’s drinking profile tends to be that they are significantly in drink when they come into the city centre. We work very closely with both universities to promote safe drinking among students.”
She added: “Pre-loading is a problem generally, it is not specific in relation to what is happening on the river.
“When people are coming into the city centre they are already quite drunk and quite vulnerable. The door staff will alert us if they find someone who is vulnerable but if young people don’t encounter the Street Angels or our other partners it is difficult to pick up on the problem.”
Ms Mowat said installing more CCTV cameras near the rivers would not stop people falling in unless a member of staff saw the fall happen at the time. She said authorities were working to raise awareness of the risks of going out and the need for groups of friends to look after each other.
She said: “It is not the river that is the problem, it is what is happening that is leading to people being at risk.”
Friends of Megan have recently started an online petition calling for new safety measures or CCTV cameras along the river, and say they hope to get 3,000 signatures.
Police Commissioner Julia Mulligan says the river safety summit on March 25 will “bring together organisations with an active interest in this aspect of community safety, with the aim of fully exploiting opportunities for working together, that will help reduce risk and prevent future incidents”.
Attendees will include a cabinet member and officer from York Council, as well as representatives from police and the city’s universities and student union.