THE couple who found the body of York student Megan Roberts have pledged to help raise funds and river safety awareness to try to prevent another tragedy.
Megan was 20 when she disappeared following a night out in York with friends in the early hours of January 23. A major search of the city and the river was carried out by police, but her body was not found for almost six weeks.
Claire and James Fearns, from Brayton, were walking with their young children by the River Ouse in Acaster Malbis on March 1, when they saw something in the river.
Claire, 30, said: “We never knew Megan, but she has touched our lives and will always be in our thoughts. We will never forget Megan, even though we didn’t know her, but we feel as if we know her now.”
Recalling the day Megan was found, Claire said: “We were just walking and we saw something, we didn’t know what it was at the time, just coming down the middle of the river.
“James walked ahead with the children and I hung back with the dog trying to get a better look, because I still wasn’t happy. I think I knew what it was, but still wasn’t 100 per cent sure.”
The current brought the object closer to the riverbank and Claire said she thought it could be a body. She told James they should check more closely when it drifted behind a mooring.
James, 40, a sub-contracts manager for Doosan Babcock at Drax Power Station, said: “We knew if we drove away we would never know and the family would not have closure.
“There was a kind of peaceful feeling, a sort of relief - that’s it, that’s the end of the story and closure for whoever’s family this might be. Not in the ideal circumstances, but it meant some sort of closure for the family.”
Claire contacted Megan’s mother Jackie to express their sorrow for her loss, and the couple have pledged to help raise money and awareness for river safety campaigns and the York Rescue Boat, with whom Jackie is working.
Jackie said she had passed the spot where Megan’s body was found just days previously, and welcomed not only the closure Claire and James helped bring, but their efforts in raising money for the rescue boat.
She said: “Myself and a friend parked at Bishopthorpe and walked as far as we could go, then decided to go to the next village and ask how to get to Naburn Lock as there had been a false alarm there earlier in the week, which I was still reeling from.
“We came across the Ship Inn in Acaster, had a good look at the river, and went in to ask the bar staff where the lock was.
“I decided not to walk any further though, the hope of ever finding her after looking at the size of the river just seemed an impossibility. I was on the point of not being able to cope anymore. Megan couldn’t have chosen a nicer family to find her and I will obviously never forget the part they played in ending the weeks of torment and uncertainty.”
Meanwhile, fundraisers for Megan Roberts have handed over almost £4,000 to a river safety charity.
Jackie Roberts’ friend, Jayne Ragg, walked the Yorkshire Three Peaks last week with her sister, Suzanne King, to raise money for the York Rescue Boat, a charity set up by Dave Benson.
Jayne said: “It was hard, and it was meant to be, but we’re glad we did it.”
Suzanne said: “We made it in 12 hours exactly. We wanted to get that time, or just under, and we really had to go for it through the last part, but we did it.”
Between them, Jayne and Suzanne raised £1,160 for the charity, which hopes to raise £30,000 to provide a boat and volunteers to monitor the Ouse during busy periods, Claire and James Fearns also helped raise money for the charity, with James approaching fellow workers at Drax Power Station.
He said: “I knew Jackie’s friends were doing the Three Peaks, so I thought I could get involved and capitalise on more than 1,000 guys being on site.
“I went round the guys at work and did an announcement to say why I was doing it and who I was doing it for, and the guys were really on board with it, £5, £10, £20 at a time.”
Drax Power and Doosan Babcock donated £500 each, and the final collection totalled about £2,600, meaning the charity received a boost of about £3,760 this week.
Dave said: “I’m absolutely stunned to be honest. I didn’t expect it, I’m lost for words. It all goes towards the awareness campaign and the boat, and I think really there’s so much we can do with it.”