04/12/2017 16:38 GMT | Updated 05/12/2017 09:31 GMT

I'm Working To Prevent Drownings So My Son's Death Will Not Be In Vain

Dave Irwin
Dave and Ross

It was about 2pm last Christmas Eve when I noticed a police car about 50 yards up our street. About five minutes later there was a knock at the door, my wife answered and it was two police officers asking for me. I couldn’t think what they would want. Their faces were very serious, so I was in a bit of a panic. I took them in the back room, and that’s when the male officer said, “We’ve found a body in the River Wear at Fatfield, Washington and we think it’s your son”. They had removed his wallet and his driving licence was there. I kept thinking he’d been mugged and someone had stolen his wallet but the two officers were sure it was him. I said I needed to go to the morgue straight away to make sure it was him. The officer described the clothes he was wearing, the same clothes he was wearing when I dropped him off at work that morning; I had watched him waddle off to work that morning after sharing a joke about the D card (disabled card). Part of me was still clinging to the hope he had been mugged or it was a mistake and it wasn’t him.

I arrived at the morgue at Sunderland Royal Hospital, where Ross’s mam was already waiting, both of us were in tears as we hugged each other. It was 3pm on Christmas Eve when both his mam and myself entered the morgue to ID Ross’s body. It was him, his mam was crying and saying ‘my baby, my baby’ as she hugged his lifeless body. I was weeping heavily and had gone onto my knees in disbelief, eventually standing to cuddle Ross too.

Ross had gone out at 5pm straight from work on 23 December to Fatfield where there are three pubs just over the road from the River Wear. He told work colleagues that he was going to Sunderland to finish the night off there. He left the River Bar around 10.45pm. We think he went across the road to go to the toilet because there is a gap in the fence opposite the bar he was in, slipped and fell in. He was very unsteady on his feet and often lost his balance as Ross was born with cerebral palsy. We also think that Ross was rendered unconscious immediately by cold water shock because when we identified the body his eyes were still open, his finger nails were clean and his shoes still on, like he had not struggled to get out. 

Dave Irwin
Ross pictured with his brother, Jack

Ross was a fun-loving, selfless, funny, caring person who lived life to the full. Ross would do anything for anyone. His family meant the world to him, the pain and grief we are going through is indescribable. Although Ross had cerebral palsy he was a really strong swimmer and could swim before he could walk. This is an accident that could happen to anyone, and these types of accidents can be prevented.

The reason I am passionate about getting Ross’s story out there and working with the RLSS, RNLI and Doing It for Dillon is because I do not want Ross to have died in vain. I don’t want another person to be a drowning statistic, I don’t want any parent or family to go through the pain and grief that our family are going through. It’s time to educate every person in the UK about the dangers of open water, cold water shock, drink drowning, rip tides and under currents. There are over 400 drowning deaths every year in the UK and an incredible 46% of those, including Ross, had no intention of going near the water that day.

Alcohol, open water and cold water shock do not discriminate.

Stay Safe this Christmas:
• Don’t walk home near water, you might fall in
• Look out for your friends, make sure they get home safely
• Don’t enter the water if you have been drinking
• Alcohol seriously affects your ability to get yourself out of trouble