A father-of-two beginning a new life with his young family killed himself by driving his car into a river, an inquest heard.

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Lester Robbins ignored his rescuers’ pleas to get out of the car as it sank into the Yare at Surlingham, telling them calmly: “This is what I want to do.”

The 50-year-old had moved to back to Norfolk just weeks before with his wife and 16-month-old twins, and yesterday his family said his death remained “an absolute mystery” to them.

Norfolk coroner William Armstrong recorded a verdict of suicide at an inquest in Norwich yesterday, citing the cause of death as drowning with alcohol ingestion a contributory factor.

Ryan Marsh, 17, described how he had watched from near the Ferry House pub on July 8 as Mr Robbins drove back and forth to the water’s edge, revving the engine, before plunging his Nissan Micra into the river.

As the teenager called for help, people rushed from the pub and shouted at Mr Robbins to save himself from the sinking car.

“But he was cool, sitting back in his seat with his hands on the steering wheel,” said Mr Marsh. “The landlord kept saying to him to get out of the car, and he just said ‘This is what I want to do’.

“I can still hear those words. I hear them when I go to sleep at night,” he said.

Mr Robbins’ wife of five years, Angela Nifton-Robbins, told the inquest that the couple and their children had moved back from Polegate, East Sussex, to Rockland St Mary temporarily to stay with her parents, and were happy in their relationship.

“Things were going very well,” she said. “We were looking forward to the future. Things were positive.”

She said her husband was a regular drinker and often drank more than was good for him, but said he had never spoken of taking his own life.

On the day of his death, Mr Robbins had visited his mother, who had been ill with bowel cancer, to take her a get-well card. He spent around 15 minutes with her, during which she said “he was his usual, happy self”, before leaving at 11.45am.

He was next seen by Mr Marsh at the Ferry House shortly before he drove into the river.

When his body was recovered his blood alcohol level was twice the legal drink-drive limit.

Mr Armstrong said the alcohol would have affected Mr Robbins’ judgement “but not his intention”, adding: “He knew what he was doing.”

Speaking afterwards through a spokesman, Mrs Nifton-Robbins said she was devastated by her husband’s death and that he would be greatly missed by all his family.

She added: “He will be remembered as a loving family man who was the life and soul of the party.”

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