Inquest verdict on Environment Agency worker from Three Holes, who died when his crane plunged into Old Bedford River at Mepal

An inquest jury today returned a verdict of accidental death into the death of an Environment Agency worker who died after his crane fell into a freezing drain.

Simon Wenn, 43, of Main Road, Three Holes, had been working along the Old Bedford River at Mepal, in December 2010, when his 28-tonne crane overturned into the water.

Firefighters tried in vain to free him from the submerged cab but he was declared dead three hours later.

Mr Wenn's colleague, Basil Kent, broke down as he described the accident to the inquest jury at Huntingdon. He said the machine overturned as it was moving timber matting along the bank of the man-made waterway.

'I wouldn't say Simon did anything wrong,' he said. 'He was going round nice and steady like he always did but for some reason the crane slid in.

'The cab was fully submerged. I knew I couldn't do anything to help so I rang 999.'

The crane had been positioned on the wooden mats which had been sanded that morning but were still covered in frost and slippery.

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'We had done all the checks. Simon was on the ball all the time,' said Mr Kent.

'If he looked around and a gap was two inches too big he would cut it back two inches. He was very particular. He would always do everything by the book.

'He had spent all that time heaving big buckets full of dirt and the machine never gave one bit.

'If he had said to me at that time that he needed the toilet, I would have got in the machine and wouldn't have thought anything of it.

'We had gone through the worst bit of dredging when the conditions were even worse. We had come to a nice bit and the ground was level.

'We were thinking to ourselves that we were home and dry. That's what makes it so hard to take.'

The inquest heard emergency services reached the drain within 10 minutes. Rescue teams managed to free Mr Wenn's head and shoulders from the cab and bring them above the icy water. But his leg was trapped by the crane preventing a full escape.

At today's inquest, the cause of death was given as drowning.

Jurors returned a verdict of accidental death after taking guidance from Coroner William Morris.

After the hearing, an Environment Agency spokesman said: 'Our sympathies are with the friends and family of Simon, who were deeply affected by this tragic accident.

'Simon had been a reliable, hard-working, conscientious member of our workfoce. He was the sort of person who applied himself to whatever was asked of him. His friends and colleagues miss him.

'We will be looking in detail at the findings of the inquest and fully co-operating with all investigations related to this tragic accident.'

After the acccident Mr Wenn's widow, Beryl, a teaching assistant at Upwell Primary School, said: 'He loved his work. He was a family man and didn't really go anywhere. It was work or home and that was it. He had done the job for 18 years and loved it.

'He had been working in the same place for about three weeks dredging silt out of the river and he was used to being in the cranes.'

Mr Wenn left a daughter, Susan, who was 18 at the time of the accident, and twin sons Jamie and Lee, aged 17.

The family previously lived in Outwell but moved to Three Holes just over a year before the tragedy. Mr Wenn's funeral was held in the village church at Upwell, where he grew up.

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