At this time of year many young people pack up and head for new beginnings at university and parents put on a brave face as they wave off their child. Arriving in a new city for the first time, keen to make friends and have a good time, nights out at university help form much needed new pals for university life and beyond. For some though, there lurk dangers, especially when senses are dulled by alcohol.
For Jackie Roberts, one such night out for her daughter proved devastating. Megan Roberts, a student at York St John University disappeared in the early hours of the morning on after a night out drinking with friends in early 2014. When she was reported missing, it was feared that the 20 year old fine art student had fallen into the River Ouse near York's Lendal Bridge. North Yorkshire Police said at the time that the most likely explanation for her disappearance was that she had been separated from her friends and had fallen into the river. Just over a month later, Megan's body was found in the River Ouse a few miles outside York.
I don't suppose we can even begin to image how a tragic situation like this is for a family; unbearable, devastating, life changing, a worst ever fear realised. The weeks of not knowing; extreme anxiety and distress followed by the worst of all news. The charity Missing People supports families like Jackie's with emotional and practical support to help them deal with the challenges they face at this time.
Jackie Roberts has been actively involved in drowning prevention work since losing Megan, including getting the message out about the Royal Life Saving Society UK's Don't Drink and Drown campaign, supported in 2015 by Missing People. The campaign's short film is launched today; Jackie says "please watch and share the film as widely as you can - let's avoid any more tragedies wherever possible."
Research shows that one third of university aged people who drown had alcohol in their system and indicate that 70% of these people are young men. What else can be done to avoid tragic and needless deaths? The Don't Drink and Drown campaign will be visiting universities up and down the country to raise awareness amongst student populations about the dangers of being near water under the influence of alcohol. The message is simple - when walking home from a night out, please avoid routes that are alongside water, especially in the dark, especially when you're alone, and especially if you have been drinking. This is the message I'll be telling my children too when they leave home.
I'm glad we're helping in a small way to get this important message out there and proud that the charity Missing People is working with the Royal Life Saving Society . At Missing People we hear about too many tragedies like this.
For anyone reading this, please know that we are here around the clock on 116 000. Our helpline is here 24/7 to offer emotional and practical support to missing people and their families.
What can you do? I'd like to ask you to share the campaign and the short film with friends and family to highlight the dangers of drinking and drowning; to remember families like Jackie's who have lost a loved one in such heartbreaking circumstances and to watch out for each other next time you are on a night out.