Mum of man, 21, found dead in the Thames after going missing still without answers months after his death

The mum of a 21-year-old man who was found dead in the Thames after going missing just days earlier is still without answers months on from his death, and is convinced her son was murdered. An inquest into the death of Paul Conte, whose body was found in the Thames on August 18, 2021, recorded an open conclusion when it was heard in January this year. Paul, from Putney, didn’t return home from a party at the house of one of his kickboxing clients in Barnes on August 15.

At Poplar Coroners Court on January 17, assistant coroner Jonathan Stevens found that the cause of Paul’s death was drowning but that it was “impossible to determine the circumstances by which he came to that death” and recorded an open conclusion.

Mr Stevens acknowledged that it must be “frustrating” for Paul’s mother, two sisters, two aunts, and girlfriend, all of whom were present, to not find out the exact way Paul had died. He added that if any further evidence came to light then the case could be reopened, but the likelihood of that was “pretty slim”.

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The last known photo of Paul Conte, taken at 9.47pm the night he went missing

Paul’s mother, Sarah, 48, claims the police investigation into her son’s death wasn’t thorough enough to start with, and believes some lines of enquiry weren’t followed through. She claims police often dismissed her and told her ‘I can’t answer that’ or ‘I didn’t look into that’. Now, s he is calling for the case to be re-opened as she is convinced her son was murdered.

During the inquest itself, after a point was raised by Sarah, the coroner admitted that there was a “missed opportunity” for investigating reports that police were searching a section of the river between Hammersmith and Putney Bridges at around 2am on the night Paul went missing.

There was also a statement from a m arine patrol unit officer which was read out and noted that the right side of Paul’s neck was swollen when his body was found. Sarah claims she was told throughout the police investigation that her son had no injuries and when she heard that read out in court , the whole family was “shocked”.

She said: “The judge said we can look back into it. The police shut me down. They kept saying all the way through there were no injuries. Then there was the swelling on the neck. We spoke to a doctor and he said you can’t swell once you’re dead so it must’ve happened while he was alive. Maybe a blunt instrument on the back of the neck.”

However, the post-mortem found that there were no signs of any injuries or a condition that might explain his death. Detective superintendent Damian Ash told MyLondon that the swelling was “consistent with someone who had entered the Thames and had been in the water for some time”.

The family say they didn’t know about the swelling until the inquest, but claim there were other lines of enquiry they were aware of which they don’t believe police investigated thoroughly enough. When Paul was missing, one of his friends received a message from a man claiming that he saw Paul get stabbed and put into a car.

Sarah gave the information over to the police, but she claims they “shut her down” and told her the case was closed. Sarah also claims she saw CCTV footage which shows three people get out of a car close to Paul. She claims police didn’t ask the people in the car to come forward, so she posted her own call out on social media.

3 paul conte

The cause of Paul’s death is yet to be determined

DS Ash told MyLondon that Paul had no stab wounds when he was found and that “there is nothing on CCTV to support the suggestion he was put into a vehicle”. He added that police hadn’t been able to speak to the person directly, but that “there is no evidence to support” their claim.

Before the inquest, Sarah requested all the statements in the case, but claims it was only months afterwards that they were sent to her. She says she specifically asked for all the statements from the party Paul attended the night he went missing, but claims she only received one from the party’s host.

DS Ash confirmed to MyLondon that police spoke to 18 people from the party. Sarah is calling for her son’s case to be re-opened and for “fresh people” to look into it. She said: “I just want to take this message and the CCTV of the car seriously. And the fact that he’s been hit.” Paul’s family have set up a petition calling on the police to investigate river deaths more thoroughly. It calls for more CCTV, improved lighting, and increased patrols.

DS Ash’s full statement reads: “My thoughts are with Paul’s family. They have our deepest sympathies. We understand that this is a painful time for them and that the circumstances of Paul’s death will have made dealing with their loss even harder. After Paul was reported missing, officers viewed many hours of CCTV footage, identified a significant number of vehicles seen in the area and spoke to 18 people who were at the party where Paul was last seen.

“They were able to trace Paul’s movements after he left the party. He walked alone along a series of roads, eventually ending up in the vicinity of Hammersmith Bridge which is the last time he was seen on camera. He was still alone at that point.

“It is the case that Paul had a swelling on his neck when he was recovered from the water and that this was recorded in an officer’s statement. This was consistent with someone who had entered the Thames and had been in the water for some time. The post mortem examination did not find that Paul had any injuries, including to his neck.

“It is also the case that a third party report was given to a friend of Paul and was then passed to his family. The report, which was provided by a person using an alias, suggested Paul had been stabbed and put into a vehicle. Paul had no stab wounds when he was found and there is nothing on CCTV to support the suggestion he was put into a vehicle. While officers do not have the real name of the person who made this claim and so have been unable to speak to them directly, there is no evidence to support it.

“This investigation has been extensive. A file was passed to the Coroner who has now concluded the inquest process. They did not raise any concerns about the investigation carried out by officers. We understand that any degree of uncertainty around the circumstances of the death of a loved one will be distressing and that the wish for further clarity on the part of those left behind may never go away.

“However we must take decisions based on the evidence available and in this case, we are satisfied that there is no indication of any third party involvement. For that reason, and in the absence of any further new and actionable evidence, the case has been closed and will not be reopened.”

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