Inquest hears of father's search for son

Laura DevlinA man frantically searching for his missing son tragically passed within a few yards of him while the teenager was still alive, an inquest heard yesterday.Laura Devlin

A man frantically searching for his missing son tragically passed within a few yards of him while the teenager was still alive, an inquest heard yesterday.

Aaron Townsend was on a night out in Norwich with his father just two days before his 20th birthday when he left Liquid nightclub alone and was never seen again.

Six hours later he ended up at White Horse Lane, Trowse - more than two miles away, climbed into an electricity substation and was electrocuted.

Greater Norfolk Coroner William Armstrong recorded a verdict of accidental death and said the 'mystery' of what Mr Townsend was doing during the time he was missing would never be solved.

CCTV footage revealed Mr Townsend and his father, Tony Stephenson, crossed Foundry Bridge within four minutes of each other soon after he left the club. The teenager was then safe inside a takeaway near the railway station when his father walked back to his car at Riverside, missing his son by a matter of yards.

The hearing at Norwich heard Mr Townsend, who lived in Peterborough, had not been to the city before but father and son and two friends were on a night out on June 14 last year to celebrate his birthday, which was two days later.

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They had been to a Pam's House club night at University of East Anglia and went to the event's follow-on party at Liquid on Prince of Wales Road from about 3am.

Giving evidence, Mr Stephenson said his son drank three or four pints that he knew of and he was not aware of his taking any other substances or being upset.

'At 5.15am he came up and asked if we could go,' he said. 'I said can we stay until 6, when the club closes, and he asked if he could have a fag so I gave him my tobacco tin and he walked off.'

He said he became 'uncomfortable' when his son had not returned a few minutes later so suggested they all leave and look for him.

'I asked the bouncers. I searched the dance rooms upstairs and downstairs. I walked back to the car, one of my friends went over to the train station and then we went back to the club.

'I stayed in town until 11.30am and then I drove back to Peterborough,' he said, adding that he had called hospitals and then made a missing persons report.

The inquest heard that an EDF engineer was working near the Trowse substation on June 19 when he noticed the circuit had been tripped at 11.50am on June 15.

He searched the compound and discovered the body of Mr Townsend who, the inquest heard, would have had to climb a 2.4m high fence displaying 'danger of death' signs to get in to the substation, then jumped in to the compound and made contact with bare high-voltage conductors.

Sgt Tony Abigail said Mr Townsend was last seen on camera on Foundry Bridge at 5.55am. He then went to a kebab and pizza shop opposite the station and his father and friends had passed the same CCTV at 5.59am.

'Why he made his way to Trowse is a complete mystery,' said Sgt Abigail, 'there was no reason for him to be there.'

'Had he been staggering in the road someone would have called us.'

Mr Armstrong expressed his sympathy to Mr Townsend's family and said the fact father and son had walked so close to each other was 'the big 'if only' of this tragedy'.

'He had left his mobile, wallet and jacket in his dad's car and came away from the city centre totally isolated, totally alone and without any support or means of contacting anybody.

'This inquest has heard all the evidence but hasn't answered the question of what Aaron was doing that evening.'

He added that adequate safety precautions had been made at the substation, where no other similar incidents had occurred in its 50-year history.

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