Investigation concludes into the death of Marcel Wochna
An Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation has found Hampshire Constabulary officers who attempted to detain a teenager before he jumped in a river and later died, acted appropriately.
An inquest, which ended on 13 September 2023 at Winchester Coroner’s Court, has concluded that 15-year-old Marcel Wochna’s drowned in the River Itchen on 8 November 2021 after he jumped feet first voluntarily to evade arrest.
Our investigation established that, on 8 November, officers responded to a report of two or three men acting suspiciously in a boat and damaging security lights in the Cobden Marine Court area of Southampton.
Two Hampshire officers arrived at 12.08am and after a short search found Marcel and a friend hidden under a boat’s canopy. They attempted to detain them but Marcel pulled away from police on a pontoon and jumped into the water where he was last seen swimming towards wreckage in the centre of the River Itchen.
The officers told our investigators they did not jump into the water after him or consider using buoyancy aids as Marcel voluntarily entered the water and showed no sign of difficulty. The officers further explained that they had concerns about his friend, who was handcuffed, given they were all on an unsteady pontoon. They also said they were not appropriately equipped or trained to attempt a water rescue.
An officer told the investigation they could not follow Marcel with torch light as he had swum out of view within seconds due to several boats being in the way.
The officers worked to detain the other boy by taking him off the pontoon, which was unsteady, and on to land and, at 12.37am, one of the officers then requested help from the force marine unit or coastguard.
More units were requested for a search of the area and the first back up team, equipped with night vision cameras, arrived at 12.43am.
Following an extensive search and rescue operation, including a lifeboat, Marcel’s body was found approximately three miles south of Cobden Bridge by a member of the public the following afternoon.
We began our investigation on 8 November after we received a referral from Hampshire Constabulary.
We looked at the contact the attending officers had with Marcel, including whether their actions were appropriate in the circumstances, and the police response after he jumped into the water.
Our investigation, which concluded in April 2022, found no evidence to suggest Marcel’s death was attributable to the actions of any of the officers involved. We found no indication that any officer had behaved in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings or had committed a criminal offence.
We did find that an officer should be reminded of their responsibilities in relation to the use of body worn video as they did not switch it on until after Marcel had entered the water.
We also found the two responding officers were not instructed not to confer about the incident when they returned to the police station to attend the post-incident procedure.
We suggested to Hampshire that they should remind senior officers to issue the non-conferring warning at the earliest opportunity to ensure the officers’ own recollection of events is not influenced by the account of others.
IOPC regional director Mel Palmer said: “Our thoughts remain with Marcel’s family and friends and all those affected by his tragic death.
“We carried out a thorough investigation into the circumstances of his death and found the officers involved acted appropriately by swiftly calling for police resources and other agencies to help with a search for Marcel.
“The force correctly classified Marcel as a high-risk missing person and all available resources were assigned to assist in searching and conducting other key lines of enquiry before he was sadly found deceased.
“The officers’ decision not to enter the water was reasonable and in accordance with relevant training, policy, guidance and legislation. Hampshire Constabulary policy says officers should not put themselves in danger by attempting a rescue in water which they are not trained or equipped to undertake.
“We do note that the inquest jury found that there was insufficient action taken by the attending officers to rescue Marcel.
“While we did not come to the same conclusion following our investigation, we will consider the inquest findings and will review whether there is any evidence which came out of the inquest which may affect our findings.”
IOPC investigators attended the scene and conducted witness and CCTV enquiries. Statements were obtained from the police officers who witnessed Marcel jump into the water, as well as officers involved in the search.
Statements were also obtained from the other boy who was detained by officers, and from members of the public. Body worn video footage and radio transmissions were reviewed.