Death of Shukri Abdi, 12, in Bury river was accident, says coroner

4 December 2020, 15:53 | Updated: 4 December 2020, 16:54

A Black Lives Matter march in memory of Shukri Abdi
A Black Lives Matter march in memory of Shukri Abdi. Picture: Getty

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The death of a 12-year-old Somalian girl who drowned in a river was an accident, a coroner has concluded.

The body of Shukri Abdi was found by underwater search teams from the River Irwell in Bury, Greater Manchester, on June 27 last year.

Joanne Kearsley, senior coroner for Manchester North, said Shukri entered the water with a child "following some encouragement".

The other child, referred as Child 1, was aware Shukri could not swim and was reliant on her to stay afloat, she added.

Ms Kearsley said on Friday Child 1's decision to enter the water with Shukri was "at its highest... a serious error of judgment”.

Both went to an area of the water which was deeper and at some point the other child tried to swim underwater, she said.

She continued: "At this point, on the balance of probabilities, a combination of deep water, together with Shukri panicking and the other child struggling to swim, meant that she probably pushed Shukri off.

"Shukri went under the water and drowned."

Both Shukri and the other child had joined other youngsters in visiting the river on the warm, sunny evening.

Lawyers for Shukri's family submitted the coroner should consider a verdict of unlawful killing from either an act of murder or gross negligence manslaughter.

The inquest heard evidence that, while walking to the river, Child 1 said to Shukri: "You'd better get in the water or I am going to kill you", but it was said in a laughing and joking manner.

The coroner found the remark was not made with any malice or intent, but "very much in the context of a child who was keen to go swimming in the water and did not want to be the only one in the water".

Ms Kearsley went on: "The fact is, there is absolutely no evidence before the court that Child 1 had any intention to kill Shukri.

"At its very highest, the comment made by Child 1 which has been described as a ‘threat to kill’ is in my judgment, in the context spoken, a phrase used by an exuberant child in the company of her peers.

"To even suggest this case reaches anywhere near the standard required for a court to consider the most serious of offences was misplaced and most unhelpful."

The coroner did find that Child 1 had breached her duty of care to Shukri, in that a child of similar age and background should have recognised the risk of death to someone who needed her to stay afloat.

However her actions fell far short of a flagrant breach in which her actions could amount to gross negligence manslaughter, she added.

Ms Kearsley said: "Child 1 was naive, she was foolish, she thought she could teach Shukri to swim, and this ill-considered act went badly wrong.

"She did not force Shukri into the water, she did not undertake any actions with the explicit intention of causing her harm.

"At its highest this was a serious error of judgment.”