A coroner has condemned paramedics who refused to jump into a drainage ditch to treat a dying man – because of health and safety rules.
Young farmer Michael Thornton, 30, had been knocked unconscious when a Land Rover he was in crashed and overturned in the water.
Driver Matthew Braddick and his friend Jason Cheal managed to escape and haul Mr Thornton on top of the upturned vehicle, where they attempted CPR.
But when paramedics arrived they made a snap ‘risk assessment’ and refused to get into the 10ft-wide rhyne.
However, a policeman who arrived at the scene minutes later had no hesitation and immediately plunged into the water.
He helped pull Mr Thornton to the road where the paramedics were waiting but they were unable to revive him.
An inquest heard that the primary cause of his death was drowning coupled with reduced consciousness and a traumatic head injury.
A coroner recorded an accidental death verdict and did not say his life could have been saved if the paramedics had gone in the water to reach him.
But Michael Rose, the coroner for West Somerset, said: “I will not say what I think of health and safety regulations.
“I was brought up in a country where men risked their own lives to save the lives of others.
“That was a period in our history which has almost ceased.”
He added: “I do praise the actions of Pc Day, who dived in, but I think by that stage it was too late.”
But despite their refusal to jump in, bosses at South Western Ambulance Trust insisted the crew made exactly the right decision and performed admirably.
A spokesman said: “The trust is confident the crew made an appropriate risk assessment on arrival at the scene and administered the best possible care in what were particularly difficult circumstances.”
The inquest in Taunton heard how Mr Thornton had been drinking with his friends Mr Cheal and Mr Braddick, 27, at a local pub.
Mr Braddick was nearly twice over the alcohol limit as he drove them home just after midnight last November in his Land Rover Discovery.
He crashed into the drainage ditch in Rooksbridge on the Somerset Levels near Weston-super-Mare and later claimed he had dodged an animal in the road.
The car flipped into the rhyne and started to fill with filthy icy water and Mr Thornton, who was not married, was knocked unconscious.
Mr Cheal ran to the nearby home of Mr Braddick’s father Ian who rushed to the scene and raised the alarm.
Mr Braddick was later convicted of drink-driving and banned from the road for 40 months but the coroner said he did not think that was the main cause of the accident.
Coroner Mr Rose said the Land Rover had not been travelling at more than 30 mph and may well have swerved to avoid an animal on the country road.
Mr Thornton was a young farmer who had his own agricultural businesses.
At the time of his death his mother Mandy Phillips, 53, said: “It still doesn’t seem real and I expect him to walk back through the door. We will miss him terribly.
“He always had a smile on his face and he lived for his tractor driving.”
His partner Liz Richardson, 35, added: “He was a very hard worker and would do anything for anyone. He loved his job, his work and being out in the countryside.”
South Western Ambulance Trust said: “Given the extremely difficult conditions in which this incident occurred, the paramedics would have been unable to administer any higher standard of care or life support to the patient on an upturned vehicle, in the middle of the water, than that which was already being performed by the individual on scene and then by the police officer.
“The clinical preference would always have been to wait for the fire service to rescue the patient from the water, and for the paramedics to then perform, effective, advanced life support once the patient had been safely recovered.
“The trust is confident the crew made an appropriate risk assessment on arrival at the scene and administered the best possible care in what were particularly difficult circumstances.
“As in this case, paramedics often have to make critical decisions in the most challenging of circumstances in order to maximise the chances of survival for patients.
“There is no question that during this incident the paramedic made exactly the right choices and performed admirably.”