Man's Flood Death An Accident

A woman has told an inquest that she drove into a heavily-flooded ford while following the directions of a satnav leading to her husband drowning as their car became flooded with water.

Jonathan Gammon, 52, from Kingston Lane, Teddington, south west London, was trapped in the Toyota Yaris as it attempted to cross the swollen ford at Thornford Road, Headley, Hampshire, on April 30.

His widow, Priscilla Turner, told the Alton inquest that she had been driving her husband and their dog Gabby, who also died, to his workplace when the incident happened.

Mr Gammon worked as a mental health tribunal judge and the couple were travelling to the Thornford Park Hospital, a secure hospital for men detained under the mental health act.

Mrs Turner said that they had not driven to the hospital before and they had set the satnav before leaving their home that morning.

She said that she drove because her husband was a better navigator and he had consulted maps during the journey.

The inquest heard how the car became submerged after entering the ford trapping Mr Gammon inside although his wife was able to escape the vehicle.

Mrs Turner, who was 55 at the time of the accident, said:

''I remember driving into the water but the water looked deceptive to me, it just looked quite shallow.

''The next thing I recall was water coming into the car.

''I do not recall whether the car was stationary or was moving.

''I do recall Jonathan trying his window and it wouldn't open, he tried the door and it wouldn't open.

''I recall him calling the emergency services and he was getting quite frightened.

''He was a cautious man, he took things seriously, he considered his moves carefully and he would get anxious.

''I remember saying to him 'Stop panicking, I will sort things' and I had a belief I would get us out of danger.

''The next thing I recall is standing on the bank and looking down on the submerged car.

''I remember getting into the ambulance as I asked if Jonathan was okay and I remember them saying 'They are working on him now'.''

She added: ''I just remember Jonathan's last words, his fear, his panic.

''I do not know how I got out of the car, I always thought I was pulled out until quite recently.''

The inquest heard that the car had been swept downstream about 100 metres by the fast-flowing water.

Dorothea Ryan, who lives locally, was walking her dog when she saw the submerged car and Mrs Turner standing in the river.

She said that she could see water ''rippling'' over the roof of the vehicle.

Mrs Ryan described how she waded into the water to assist Mrs Turner.

She said: ''It was a bit un-nerving, I am fit and strong but I thought 'What if I go in?'.

''Priscilla grabbed my hand, she was in an awful state, she had lost a shoe, she was soaked so I got her out of her coat.

''She was saying 'Oh my god, my husband, my dog, what happened, please tell me it's a dream', I said 'No it's a nightmare'.

''The woman was very polite saying 'Thank you, thank you'.

''We just held each other, she was crying, I was comforting her.

''She was in total shock, she said 'I've killed my husband', I said 'No, it was an accident'.''

Another resident, Peter Hemmings, who also witnessed the incident, said that drivers frequently got into difficulties at the ford having followed satnav directions.

He said: ''It's unfortunate that this is the case.

''Most of the people who do get stuck and are not local have been using satnavs.

''It is an open road, it appears on the satnav as a road without showing the ford.

''We have to warn people visiting us not to use the road.''

He added that since the road had been closed following the accident, he had witnessed people removing the signs and continuing to drive through the ford.

The inquest heard how retained firefighter Jack Bancroft, based at Kingsclere, made a ''dramatic'' rescue attempt by climbing on to the car roof top using a ladder and smashing the windows until he located the spaniel and Mr Gammon and released them from the vehicle.

He said: ''I was able to open the door, it was a struggle and I was using a lot of strength because of the force of the water.''

The inquest heard that the cause of death for Mr Gammon was drowning.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, North Hampshire Coroner Andrew Bradley said to Mrs Turner: ''What you drove into was quite extraordinary, it's incredibly deceptive.

''It's an appalling set of circumstances, an appalling situation.''

He added that he had personally reviewed the warning signs in place at the ford and said that they appeared adequate.

He said that he would not be making any recommendations as the use of the ford was under review by Hampshire County Council.

The coroner urged drivers to avoid using the ford, adding: ''I have quite enough work to do, I do not need any more.''

Speaking after the inquest, Mrs Turner said: ''The tragic and untimely death of my husband Judge Jonathan Gammon has brought great sadness to his family, friends and colleagues and our lives have changed forever.

''Jonathan was known as a man of great compassion and worked tirelessly for the good of the justice system.

''He is sorely missed and always will be.

''Jonathan was also a hard working individual who actively engaged with the community and would want the problem of Headley ford resolved to ensure a similar tragedy could never occur again.

''I would like to thank the police for their sensitivity and the support they have shown to Jonathan's family and myself.''

Phillip Sycamore, president of the first tier tribunal health, education and social care chamber, said in a statement released at the time of Mr Gammon's death: '

'I am greatly saddened and shocked by the tragic death of my colleague Jonathan Gammon.

''Jonathan, who had tremendous talent, became a full-time judge in 2009 having previously had a distinguished career as both a barrister and a solicitor.

''He was a very well respected and popular colleague.

''Our thoughts are with his wife and family. He will be much missed.''

Dave Norgate, Basingstoke group manager for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, praised Firefighter Bancroft and his colleagues for ''pushing themselves to the limit''.

The inquest heard that although it was sunny on the day of the accident, there had been heavy rains on the previous days.

Mr Norgate said:

''Thankfully this type of incident is extremely rare but the dangers of driving into deep water should never be underestimated.

''It has been reported that the public are still ignoring warnings at Headley ford and we urge people to look at this tragedy and think again before driving into water.

''A car can be moved by just six inches of water and a ford can change depth by up to three metres in 20 minutes during flash floods so never assume the road is safe to cross even if you have done so recently.

''One fatal incident such as this is one too many but we hope that other drivers will learn from this tragedy.''

After the accident, somebody placed a sign at the ford stating: ''Idiots with t***navs, meet thy doom'', although it has since apparently been removed.