Doncaster teen with ‘heart of gold’ died after getting into trouble while swimming in lagoon at disused landfill site, inquest told

Skelbrooke Lake
Skelbrooke Lake

A ‘loving’ Doncaster teenager died after getting into trouble while swimming in a lagoon at a disused landfill site he had visited with friends, an inquest heard. 

19-year-old Taylor Hugh Matthews arrived at the area known as ‘Skelbrooke Lake’ - located at a former landfill site off Straight Lane, Skelbrooke  - with three friends at around 8.20pm on July 8 this year with the intention of going swimming, Doncaster Coroners’ Court heard. 

In a statement read out in court, one of Taylor’s teenage friends described how the group were ‘all buzzing’ about going swimming in the lagoon, and had made the decision to go there during a 40-mile bike ride they had been on earlier that day. 

The jury of eight women and three men heard statements from several eye-witnesses to the fatal incident, who described the site as somewhere that was well-known for being a meeting place where people would ‘chill out’ and go swimming during the summer months. 

The court heard how when Taylor, of Bentley, and his friends arrived at the lagoon there were already several people congregating on its banks, all of whom had accessed the private land, owned by FCC Environment, through a gap in the fence. 

Witnesses described there being a ‘lower’ and a ‘higher’ bank at the lagoon, the latter of which was estimated to be between 12 and 15 feet high, and the jury was told how Taylor and his friends headed straight for the higher bank on arrival. 

A friend of Taylor’s said in a statement: “Taylor said he wanted to jump in from the higher access point. Taylor said: ‘If you’re going to do it, do it right’.”

The teenager subsequently jumped in, and his friends described how he shouted up to them about how cold the water was, at which point they told him to swim to the nearest bank where they said they would meet him. 

But moments later, people gathered around the lagoon noticed Taylor struggling to keep his head above the water and several of them, including two of his friends, jumped in the water to try and save him while others called the emergency services. 

Despite their best efforts, no-one at the lagoon managed to reach Taylor. 

The emergency services arrived on the scene a short time later, and Station Manager for South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, Paul Bragger, told the court how the emergency services also struggled to find, and also reach, Taylor due to the depth of the water, which he estimated to be between 15 and 20 feet deep.

Mr Bragger told the court that the depth of the water meant there was a potential risk to life for the members of the emergency services attempting to reach Taylor, but three firefighters volunteered and the strongest swimmer of the three was dispatched to rescue the teenager, which he managed on the second attempt. 

After he was extricated from the water, medics waiting on the banks of the lagoon battled to save Taylor’s life, but he was sadly pronounced dead at the scene. 

In a statement read out in court, Taylor’s mother, Hayley, said that despite not having any formal lessons, the teenager was a competent swimmer who had even completed a lifesaving course. 

“Taylor was a strong, competent swimmer, not of an olympic standard, but he was no Sharron Davies either,” she said. 

Taylor’s family paid tribute to the teenager through a statement given to the court, in which they described him as being a ‘hard-working, loving, respectful’ person with ‘old-fashioned manners’ and a ‘heart of gold’. 

Histopathologist, Dr Laszlo Karsai, carried out Taylor’s post-mortem examination, and concluded his cause of death was immersion in water. 

Dr Karsai said toxicology tests revealed Taylor had no traces of alcohol or drugs in his system at his time of death. 

Health and Safety Manager for FCC Environment, Debbie Croft, gave evidence at court, and said the company has experienced problems with trespassers, some of whom were children, at the site since 2012.

Ms Croft said the company had taken several steps to secure the site including putting dye in the water in a bid to make it look less appealing to trespassers; installing 2.4 metre high fencing around the perimeters of the site and carrying out weekly checks of the fencing. 

She told the jury that the company also visited local schools on a regular basis to warn them of the dangers of swimming in the water at the site, which she described as a ‘lagoon,’ adding that security guards had been put back on the site since Taylor’s death. 

It took the jury less than an hour to return a conclusion of misadventure 

Assistant coroner, Mark Beresford, passed on his ‘sympathies and condolences’ to Taylor’s family, and praised them for acting with such dignity during the inquest.