Pontcysyllte Aqueduct inquest: Teenager's death fall sparks safety check call

Chirk | News | Published:

A coroner has called for safety measures to be re-examined at a world-famous tourist attraction where a teenager died .

More than 200,000 people a year visit the 200-year-old Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, at Froncysyllte, near Chirk, but at an inquest in Ruthin John Gittins, coroner for North Wales East and Central, said he was concerned the conditions that led to the death of 18-year-old Kristopher McDowell still existed.

Kristopher plunged 120 feet to his death when a cast-iron upright gave way after he had gone through a gap in railings alongside the towpath in the early hours of May 31, 2016.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

The teenager was walking home with three friends after finishing a shift at the McDonald's restaurant in Chirk, and he stepped through a gap on to a narrow parapet after one of his friends had said he was scared of heights.

An employee of the Canal and River Trust, which is responsible for the aqueduct, had carried out a monthly inspection of the railings three weeks earlier when no issues were identified, and the inquest in Ruthin heard that a more thorough annual inspection had taken place in July 2015.

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The iconic structure, built by Thomas Telford, undergoes a “principal inspection” every 20 years and the next one will take place later this year.


William Day, a consultant civil engineer engaged by the trust to examine the structure and inspection procedures, told the inquest the systems employed were more rigorous than many and the inspections were adequate.


He explained that the bottom of the upright appeared to have disengaged first when Kristopher pulled himself up on it and then the top came away. A “nib” helping to secure the upright had fractured.

Andrew Marginson, an engineer asked by the coroner to produce an independent report, agreed that the trust’s systems were acceptable but he voiced concern about the size of the gaps between the uprights.


After the jury returned a conclusion of misadventure, the coroner said he intended issuing a Regulation 28 report to the trust because he remained concerned about the size of the gaps between the uprights and about the adequacy of the method of inspection which had not identified the faulty upright.

He said he wanted to assure the public that the structure was perfectly safe to visit and use normally but he concurred with the McDowell family barrister Helen Pooley that it had been proved that the risk still existed.

After the hearing Julie Sahramn, the trust’s chief operating officer, said they were deeply saddened by Kristopher’s death.

She said they took safety very seriously and pointed out that both experts had concluded that the inspection and maintenance regimes were effective.

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