Drowning teen ‘yelled for help’

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AN eyewitness appeared to choke back tears as she described the dramatic moments a summer outing in Whitby turned to tragedy, resulting in the death of a 17-year-old.

Catherine Watson, from North Wales, was on holiday in Whitby at the time and watched events unfold from pier, high above the waves.

James Samuel Willis

James Samuel Willis

Visibly emotional, she said: “I heard shouts of ‘please help me, I can’t swim’.

“I looked down and saw three young people calling out to each other.”

Samuel James Willis, known as Sammy, drowned after getting into difficulty in the sea off Whitby beach in August last year.

The teenager, who was originally from Stockton, was enjoying a supervised day out with fellow patients and staff from the Roycroft Clinic, in Newcastle, a medium-security centre for troubled youngsters.

An inquest into his death, which is being heard before a jury, began at Northallerton Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday.

Sammy and two friends were paddling close to the West Pier, when the sea conditions changed suddenly and they were overwhelmed by a large wave known as a rip current.

Mrs Watson and other bystanders threw life belts down into the water, as RNLI lifeguards rushed to the scene.

She said Sammy seemed to lose consciousness, with his two teenage companions – named in court only as Mary and Kirsty – also in difficulty.

The girls managed to get out of the water and were taken to hospital before being released later that day.

Sammy was airlifted to hospital but declared dead on arrival.

Heather Porteous led the team of four staff looking after the three teenagers.

She said the youngsters were on the second of three days out as part of their summer holidays.

They had visited the Lake District and were also planning a trip to London.

Meetings had concluded the patients were well enough to be allowed to go on the trips. Risk assessments were also carried out.

Ms Porteous said she had told the teenagers not to go too far out to sea, adding that they were being observed by two colleagues, who raised the alarm when the wave swept them out of sight.

The hearing continues.