Birthday night out ended in tragedy

Joshua Willingale
Joshua Willingale

A REVELLER tragically drowned when he fell into Hartlepool Marina after drinking a cocktail of alcohol on his birthday night out.

An inquest was held into the death of Joshua Edwin Willingale yesterday after his body was pulled from the water at Hartlepool Marina last week – two weeks after he was last seen.

The last sighting of the popular 24-year-old was in the early hours of September 15 on his birthday night out with friends, when he was said to have been in “good spirits”.

This is despite the labourer just finding out that his contract with surveying and inspection firm RSL, in Hartlepool, had come to an end, the hearing held by town coroner Malcolm Donnelly was told.

He left his home in Rossall Street, off the town’s Oxford Road, and went to a house party in Garside Drive, in the West View area of Hartlepool with several pals.

After having drinks and socialising there, Joshua and his mates went on to The Royal pub, in Church Street, where they played pool.

Joshua continued drinking, buying a rum cocktail and a “top shelfer”, a drink containing a selection of spirits.

Detective Inspector Alan Todd, who led the investigation into Joshua’s disappearance, told the inquest: “He had been bought drinks by his friends but he appeared to be fine, a little unsteady on his feet, but fine.”

“He left the pub around 12.40am holding his hands up as if to say ‘I’ve had enough’.

“He put his pool cue away, walked out of the pub and turned left on to Church Street.”

The next time Joshua was spotted after that was at 1.42am on CCTV cameras, at The Premier Inn, at the marina.

Det Insp Todd said he “speculated” that Joshua had possibly wandered over to the marina to find a father and son from London, who he and his friends had been talking to earlier in the evening, and who were staying at the Premier Inn.

The inquest, attended by Joshua’s mum, Debra Willingale, heard that police could find no evidence of any suspicious circumstances and no suggestion that Joshua wanted to do himself any harm.

Det Insp Todd said: “I am of the opinion that it’s a tragic set of circumstances which has led to the death of this young man.

“He’s been under the influence of alcohol, made his way to the area and he’s either fallen into the marina by leaning over the side barrier as it would have only come up to his thigh with him being 6ft 3ins tall, or he’s simply sat down at a chained area and fallen in.

“I don’t think we will ever know the reason why.”

Mr Donnelly said a post mortem examination concluded that Joshua’s death was a result of an accident, and the cause was drowning.

Meanwhile, tributes have been paid to Joshua, an amateur footballer, whose team-mates say will be a big loss to his old club and the sport in general.

Shocked team-mates at his former team Corporation Welfare held a one-minute silence before their Sunday League First Division clash with Camerons Club.

They went on to win 4-1 and dedicated the result to their late midfield team-mate.

Corporation Welfare secretary Paul Barnfather said: “Josh leaves behind a lot of good friends at the club.

“Josh’s death is a sad loss, not only to the club but to the entire league.

“He was a lovely, quiet and unassuming lad who blossomed when he took to the football pitch.

“He played for us for two years and even after he left us about a year ago he would regularly come and watch our games.

“He really was a smashing lad and his death has been an awful shock to us.

“The lads who scored dedicated their goals to Josh and as a team we dedicated the result to him.”