Dearly-loved son died after 20ft fall at party in Devon

Salcombe Yacht Club
-Credit: (Image: Google Maps)

A university student and 'all round sportsman' tragically suffered a fatal fall at a party in Devon after 'impulsively' balancing on railings before toppling forward and plunging around 20ft down into an alleyway below. Ben Jefferson was with his family for a weekend away of socialising and celebration on Saturday, April 16, 2022, an inquest heard.

In a statement, his dad Duncan Jefferson told how the 21-year-old, who was born and raised in Leicester, had enjoyed a gap year in the USA before studying sports science at the University of Derbyshire and was coming towards the end of his third year.

On April 16, he and his family drove to a holiday home in Salcombe, having stayed the previous night in a hotel in Exeter, to attend a 60th anniversary party. The weekend coincided with rugby event Salcombe Rugby Club's Easter 7's.

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That afternoon, his dad told how he and his son had gone to The Fortescue Inn and The Victoria Inn in Salcombe for a rugby event meeting and to watch the rugby from 4.30pm and had been drinking. They went to the party at Salcombe Yacht Club on Cliff Road at 7.30pm which was attended by around 40 people where they carried on drinking.

The inquest held at Exeter Coroner’s Court today, June 24, heard evidence from bar staff who described Ben as having been slurring his words, 'staggering', leaning on to items to steady himself, had smashed a glass when he accidentally dropped it, and appeared to have 'peaked'. He was refused to be served any more alcohol but it was said it was not known if he carried on drinking.

At 10.15pm, Ben went outside onto the patio area of the yacht club which had metal railings along almost the entire length of the perimeter wall, apart from a small gap at one end. At the railings close to the gap, CCTV footage lasting 10 seconds showed Ben dancing with his back against the railings, which were chest height.

He then faced them and put his hands on top of the railings to push himself and swing one leg over them. After lifting his other leg off the ground, a member of the party was heard shouting at him asking what he was doing.

Ben was seen looking down over the edge of the railings and lost his balance causing him to topple forward and fall down onto concrete below. An ambulance arrived 20 minutes later and he was taken to Derriford Hospital where he was operated on after being diagnosed with a severe traumatic head injury.

Despite the best efforts of doctors, his injuries were not survivable and he passed away on April 20, 2022. Consent was given for organ donation. The medical cause of his death was traumatic brain injury due to a fall from height.

The inquest heard that although Ben had not fallen through the small gap in the metal railings, since his death Salcombe Yacht Club 'urgently' installed additional safety railings so that they now run along the entire edge of the perimeter wall to prevent any further accidents.

Assistant coroner Mike Bird said that the amount of alcohol Ben had consumed within a six-hour period was 'clearly a factor' in his death and 'may have' affected his judgement.

Describing the moment when Ben balanced on the railings, he said: "There is no evidence why he did this. It was probably a spur-of-the-moment, spontaneous, unplanned thing consistent with high-spirited behaviour in the evening.

"It was a party and plenty of alcohol had been drunk."

Recording a conclusion of misadventure and offering his condolences to his family, Mr Bird said: "It was an intentional act. It was Ben's decision to push himself on top of the railings.

"It was a choice made, whether unwise or influenced by alcohol. It is not for us to judge but it was a reckless thing to do, dangerous and it went wrong. Clearly, he did not intend for the outcome."

Following Ben's death, an obituary notice was posted online by his family stating he had passed away following a 'tragic accident'.

It read: "Dearly loved son of Duncan and Angela. Irreplaceable brother to Emily and Sophie and their partners. Beloved and much-missed nephew, cousin and grandson.

"All round sportsman, especially his lifelong passion for rugby. Ben lived life to the full, touching everyone who met him with his vivacious and gregarious approach to life. Rest in peace darling. Always loved and never forgotten."