Coroner blasts Tenerife police over Wigan dad's pool death probe

A coroner has launched a blistering attack on Tenerife police for failing to treat the death of a Wigan dad found gravely injured in an empty swimming pool as a possible crime.
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The family of 34-year-old Andy Openshaw have been left with more questions than answers after a three-day inquest at Bolton Coroner's Court ended with an open verdict.

Conflicting theories had been ventured during the hearing, including an accident, drunken horseplay or that the victim’s best friend Lee Unsworth or unidentified third parties had attacked him. Indeed, a severely disabled Mr Openshaw, several months later identified to police and family Mr Unsworth as his assailant - a claim which the latter denied.

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But because the pool hadn’t been treated as a crime scene, proper interviews and forensics ignored and CCTV not checked there was so little evidence collated that it was nigh impossible to prove things one way or another, senior coroner Timothy Brennand said.

The late Andy OpensghawThe late Andy Opensghaw
The late Andy Opensghaw

It was also revealed that when the chief investigating officer in the UK - Det Chief Insp Paul Rollinson of Greater Manchester Police - tried to go back to Tenerife to carry out further investigations, the authorities refused to admit him.

At the end of the hearing Mr Brennand said he would be writing to the Spanish ambassador to complain about the authorities “risible” approach to the tragedy because they had automatically jumped to the conclusion that an accident had occurred and not considered the alternatives.

Engineer Mr Openshaw had been on a holiday with friends to the Spanish isle to celebrate one of their number’s forthcoming wedding.

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He and life-long friend Lee Unsworth became separated from the rest of the party on a night out on January 31 2014 at the end of which Mr Openshaw was found critically injured at the deep end of an empty swimming pool in an area known as the San Rafael apartments in Playa De Las Americas.

Playa de las Americas, TenerifePlaya de las Americas, Tenerife
Playa de las Americas, Tenerife

The victim underwent emergency brain surgery, was eventually repatriated to England after a fund-raising campaign and continued his recovery there. But three years later Mr Openshaw’s health deteriorated and on July 15 2017 he died.

Mr Brennand had no criticism of the medical care that the casualty had received either at home or abroad and part of his verdict ruled that death had been due to complications caused by Mr Openshaw’s catastrophic injuries incurred in the pool.

But he was highly critical of the Spanish police’s handling of the case and neither did he exonerate Mr Unsworth.

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The inquest was almost adjourned when it was revealed that witness Karen McFadyen, who had testified earlier via video link, had since revealed to Mr Openshaw’s brother Tim that she thought she had identified a new possible eye witness.

But after weighing up what the coroner referred to as a “well meaning intervention”, the family decided to press ahead because she had not offered a name of the person, let alone the possibility of speaking to him or her. Police have promised to follow up the lead.

The hearing was told that the two men had been close friends since they were at primary school together in Leigh and that there had been no history of animosity between them either for years, weeks or even earlier that day.

Mr Brennand said it was fair to assume that during the course of the evening both had drunk a substantial quantity of alcohol and that this was not customary for Mr Openshaw who was not part of the “lad culture.” Drugs may also have been involved but to what, if any extent, was impossible to tell.

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It was at about 1am that Mr Openshaw was found dressed only in his boxer shorts at the deep end of the pool (a drop of between two and three metres from the side) in what was described as a quite insalubrious part of Play de las Americas, known for prostitutes and drug dealers. The rest of his clothes were found at the shallow end. Mr Unsworth was also in the pool, having suffered a broken foot after jumping in to save his friend, he said.

Mr Brennand said that Ms McFadyen’s evidence had been useful because, while she had not witnessed what happened, she was with Mr Unsworth after his release from hospital. She had been surprised at his lack of empathy and sympathy for his friend considering his plight.

A lot else of what she had said, while well meant to help the family, was often hearsay or even hearsay of hearsay, Mr Brennand said.

There were reports that Mr Unworth had given conflicting accounts of what happened and what he remembered, and when he testified at the hearing, he said he remembered nothing of the circumstances that led to Mr Openshaw’s injuries at all.

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The inquest was told that there had been reports of two men fighting, but there was nothing forensically to suggest Mr Unsworth had punched his friend, either blood or personal injury-wise. All of Mr Openshaw’s injuries - except a broken finger which may have been picked up earlier in the evening - the court heard, could have been incurred by a head-first dive.

Mr Brennand commented on the possibility of Mr Unsworth suffering from “selective amnesia”, saying it was certainly convenient that he shouldn’t be able to remember the critical moment of the whole night.

But he said that it was also possible that Mr Opensshaw did dive, fall or roll in, perhaps while confused or disinhibited by inebriation, but there was not enough evidence to say.

He added: “I need to say something about the authorities’ investigations in Tenerife.

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“The initial focus of the police investigation was at best superficial and at worst entirely risible. It was shaped by a working theory that two drunken friends jumped into the pool. It is possible that happened but that binary approach is blinkered and ignores other interpretations.

“This scene should have been regarded as a crime scene. There was no full or formal interview with Mr Lee Unsworth or others, no identification of eye witnesses, no trawl through CCTV, no door-t- door inquiries and no crime scene analysis.”

Because of this, he said, the inquiries had reached an “evidential cul-de-sac” from a coronial point of view.

Expressing his regret that he could not come to a firm conclusion and that he must record an open verdict, Mr Brennand praised Mr Openshaw’s wife Laura, parents Simon and Jacqueline and brother Tim for say that their “dignity, courage, unequivocal steadfast attempts to get answers to the simple question ‘what happened?’ is simply admirable.”

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After the hearing Tim Openshaw told wigantoday: “This isn’t over. We want more witnesses to come forward. Perhaps there are people who have had a change of circumstances and feel that they can now testify as to what went on. The Tenerife side of the investigations was shocking. If they had done that properly we might have had answers one way or another."

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