The drowning of a 12-year-old refugee schoolgirl in a river has been ruled an accidental death after a high-profile inquest into the incident.
Shukri Abdi, who could not swim, died after wading into the River Irwell in Bury, Greater Manchester on June 27 last year.
Her family had claimed she was pushed into the water by girls who had been bullying her and accused authorities of failing to properly investigate her death due to institutional racism.
In her ruling on Friday, Joanne Kearsley, senior coroner for Manchester North, found Shukri had entered the water willingly with another child, whose actions were ‘naive’ but not malicious and fell far short of manslaughter or murder.
Shukri had spent the afternoon after school during a heatwave with two girls, who for legal reasons can only be referred to as Child 1 and Child 2, the inquest was told.
At one point she changed into a borrowed T-shirt and leggings after the suggestion of going to a ‘water park with slides’, but the trio instead met two boys and walked to the river behind Bury police station.
After the girls entered the river, Child 2 changed her mind and got out, but Shukri and Child 1 continued walking into a deeper part of the river close to a fast-running weir while holding hands.
The inquest heard how just a couple of metres away from rocks marking the river’s shallow part, the riverbed drops from knee-deep to around 15 feet deep.
The other child tried to swim underwater but both girls got into trouble.
Ms Kearsley said: ‘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.’
One of the boys and two amateur fishermen who heard the children shouting about 400-500 yards away jumped in to try to save her but it was too late.
The inquest heard that while walking to the river Child 1 told Shukri ‘if you don’t get in the water I’m going to kill you’, a comment seized upon as a ‘threat to kill’ by the Abdi family’s representatives.
But Child 1’s guardian, to whom she made the admission, said the girl described the remark as being made ‘in a laughing and joking manner’ and simply wanted to avoid going into the river alone.
The guardian said Child 1 felt she had done something ‘really bad’ but was happy for the detail to be reported to police as ‘she wanted people to know it wasn’t meant in the way she said it’.
The coroner found the remark was not made with any malice or intent and that evidence given at the inquest pointed to a comment made by ‘an exuberant child in the company of her peers’ who was ‘keen to go swimming in the water and did not want to be the only one in the water’.
Ms Kearsley continued: ‘The fact is, there is absolutely no evidence before the court that Child 1 had any intention to kill Shukri.
‘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.’
She did find that Child 1 had breached her duty of care to Shukri as she knew she couldn’t swim and needed her to stay afloat, but that her actions fell far short of a ‘flagrant’ breach constituting manslaughter by gross negligence.
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.
‘She was in unfamiliar water, the dangers of which I am satisfied were not fully appreciated.
‘At its highest this was a serious error of judgment. I am sure the ramification of June 27 2019 will be felt by many for a long time.’
The Independent Office for Police Conduct investigated Greater Manchester Police after Shukri’s mother ZamZam Ture complained the force had prematurely concluded her daughter’s death was not suspicious, the results of which were also released on Friday.
IOPC regional director Amanda Rowe said: ‘We found insufficient evidence to suggest that GMP did not conduct a thorough investigation and I am satisfied that it was carried out in line with national and local policies and guidelines.’
She added there was no evidence to indicate Shukri’s family were treated less favourably because of their ethnic background.
After the hearing, Maz Saleem, spokeswoman for the Justice4Shukri campaign, said: ‘The investigation of Shukri Abdi’s death and subsequent investigations by the school, police and other local authorities have come to represent yet another example of the institutional racism riddled throughout this country.’
Ms Saleem accused Shukri’s secondary school of failing to protect her from ‘bullying’ and claimed police did not investigate the death thoroughly, adding that the family’s lawyers may seek a judicial review of the inquest’s findings.
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