One Leeds mum’s courage

Jackie Roberts, mother of teenager Megan Roberts, who drowned after falling into the River Ouse in York.  Jackie has taken up the role of a drowning prevention officer and last year she won a Yorkshire woman of achievement award. Picture: James Hardisty.
Jackie Roberts, mother of teenager Megan Roberts, who drowned after falling into the River Ouse in York. Jackie has taken up the role of a drowning prevention officer and last year she won a Yorkshire woman of achievement award. Picture: James Hardisty.
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It is three years since Jackie Roberts’ daughter Megan drowned. Catherine Scott talks to her about her loss.

If you lost a child to drowning it is understandable if you never want to go near water again. But for Jackie Roberts the opposite is true.

Student Megan Roberts got separated from her friends while under the influence of alcohol and fell in the River Ouse near to York's Lendal Bridge.

Student Megan Roberts got separated from her friends while under the influence of alcohol and fell in the River Ouse near to York's Lendal Bridge.

Since her daughter Megan, 20, was found drowned in the River Ouse in York three years ago, Jackie has dedicated her life to raising awareness of the dangers of water and alcohol.

She has retrained as a drowning prevention officer for the charity the Royal Life Saving Society.

“Some may find it strange, but I was told I am an instrumental griever for the way I reacted. I took all my energy and love for my child and channelled it into doing something positive. You have to do whatever gets you through and that felt right for me. I just couldn’t let Megan’s death be for nothing.”

Megan disappeared in January 2014 after a night out with friends. She was a fine arts student at York St John University and an inquest into her death heard she’d had a lot to drink on the night she disappeared.

“Meg had gone back to University after the Christmas holidays,” says Jackie who lives in Wetherby. “It was a Wednesday night and they’d all had a lot to drink.”

The first Jackie knew that there was a problem was when she received a telephone call from one of Megan’s friends.

“They said they hadn’t heard from Megan but I wasn’t that worried as I thought she was with another group friends. Meg was the type of girl who if she needed anything would have called me.”

But when Monday arrived and there was still no sign of Megan Jackie knew something was wrong and she immediately called the police.

“I feel guilty that I didn’t realise something was seriously wrong sooner but she was 20 and you have to let them have some independence.”

Initially, Jackie feared Megan may have been abducted but as they pieced together her last known movements the more likely scenario became clear.

“She was last seen staggering close to the river and we soon realised that she must have fallen in. We had to believe it as the alternative was even more dreadful to contemplate. ”

Jackie recalls having to break the news to Megan’s younger brother and sister, Amy who was 17 at the time and Ben 13.

“We are a very close family and we had the support of friends as well which got us through, I’m not sure how I kept it together but I had to for my other two children.

“It was really hard on them. I had undergone treatment for breast cancer the year before and we were just getting through that... I just wanted to take their pain away. It has affected them, but I’m proud with how they dealt with it.”

It was a further six weeks before Megan’s body was discovered in the river by a family out for a walk.

“They were amazing and they have remained friends ever since. They were relieved that at last Megan had been found. Some people never find their children’s bodies and I think that must be even worse.”

Jackie says the only regret she has is that she didn’t see Megan to say goodbye.

“Everyone advised me not to see her, but whatever she looked like couldn’t have been worse than what I had imagined. But I let them persuade me, but I really wish I had gone, even if just to see her through glass to say goodbye. She was my baby and I feel I let her down.”

Despite this Jackie has used Megan’s death to help other families and try to spread the word about the dangers of drinking and water.

She became a volunteer ambassador for the Royal Life Saving Society, before taking up a post as national drowning prevention officer, fund-raising, securing drowning prevention on the political agenda and fronting media campaigns. “I would never have been able to stand in front of journalists and talk before Megan died. You seem to find inner strength,” says Jackie who helped launch the charity’s Don’t Drink and Drown campaign earlier this year.

She also helps the families of other drowning victims.

“I want people to see that although the pain never ever goes away you do survive it. It is difficult talking to other parents, but I just want to help.”

It was the RLSS that nominated Jackie for a Yorkshire Woman of Achievement Award last year.

“I never thought in a million years that I would win. There were so many women there who had done such amazing things. But then when they started to describe the winner I realised they were talking about me.”

Jackie won the Jane Tomlinson Woman of Courage Award. “Jane was such an amazing woman and I had met Mike a few times before and I was on his table on the night. To win the award in her name meant so much to me.”

Jackie says another very emotional day was when she was awarded Megan’s posthumous degree from York St John.

“Everyone clapped and cheered when I went up to collect the degree. Megan was such a special person. She could be wilful and of course we had arguments as most mothers and daughters do, but she was becoming my friend as well as my daughter as she got older. Of course I miss my little girl, but I really miss the friend she was becoming more than anything.”

SEARCH FOR INSPIRATIONAL WOMEN

Sue Ryder Yorkshire Women of Achievement is all about unsung heroines – ordinary women doing extraordinary and inspiring things.

The awards will take place on Friday May 12 at the Royal Armouries. Closing date for nominations is Friday March 24. Organisers want to hear about inspirational women in Business, Education, Sport, Young Achiever of the Year, the Jane Tomlinson Award for Courage and the Community Impact Award.

For more information: www.sueryder.org/YWOA

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