Rugby player, 22, drowned in river after night out clubbing with friends

A young rugby player was reported missing following a night out with mates before her body was found in a river five days later, an inquest heard.

Brooke Morris, 22, had been partying with her friends in Merthyr Tydfil in October 2019, but the following day they could not get in contact with her. Friends and family said her disappearance was totally out of character for the rugby player, who was a member of Nelson RFC.

Five days after the night out, her body was found in the River Taff near Abercynon. An inquest into the circumstances surrounding her death, which took place at Pontypridd Coroner's Court on Tuesday, determined that Miss Morris had drowned, Wales Online reports.

Her death had not been treated as suspicious by police, though they did carry out an investigation on behalf of the Coroner's Office. Rachel Knight, assistant coroner for the South Wales Central area, said in her findings that Miss Morris' behaviour on the night out had been "out of character" and "accepted that the medical cause of death was drowning, with no other injuries of note".

The inquest heard that on the evening of Friday, October 11, 2019, Miss Morris had gone to her friend, Emma Marsh's house. A statement from Ms Marsh, which was read aloud at the hearing, said that she had "slammed her phone down and said 'I'm depressed,'" saying that a friend, Jemma Griffiths had "p*ssed her off."

The inquest heard from Ms Griffiths that "a week or two" before October 11, she had told Miss Morris that "she wasn't interested in a romantic relationship with her," but that "there was no malice between me [Jemma] and her."

On October 11, Miss Morris decided to stay at Ms Marsh's house to keep her dogs company while Ms Marsh was out. A statement from Karen Morris, Brooke's mother, said that she had told her that she didn't think she would be going out. However, Mrs Morris said she later received a text from her daughter at 10.17pm asking her to leave the door of their house open.

Ms Marsh added that she had received a text from Miss Morris at 11.36pm to say that she was "on [her] way out into town." The inquest heard that Miss Morris met up with Ms Griffiths, and the two were given a lift from Trelewis into Merthyr Tydfil by a friend, Jason Gravell.

Ms Griffiths said that Miss Morris had an alcoholic drink in a sports bottle when she was picked up and bought a bottle of wine, which she didn't open and left in Mr Gravell's van when the two women were dropped off in Merthyr Tydfil. Ms Griffiths told the inquest: "We only went to two pubs that night," starting at the Vulcan Inn on High Street, where they had "two or three" drinks with friends, before walking to the Kirkhouse Nightclub – known as Koolers – on Dynevor Street.

Ms Griffiths added that she, Miss Morris, and the other friends they were with were all dancing at the nightclub and had a further "two or three Jaegers." They then went outside the club for a lift home where they began chatting to two boys. Ms Griffiths said that one of the boys had made a comment about Miss Morris's eyebrows and that she had "slapped him."

"She's not the argumentative type, she's not like that," Ms Griffiths told the inquest. "I said, 'We're two girls, what if he had slapped you back?'" She added that the boy was "taken aback" and "just stood there" after Miss Morris had slapped him.

She continued: "I don't think she meant to slap him. I think it was just a drunken reaction," adding, "I said to her, 'You're just acting silly.'" Ms Griffiths said that she told Miss Morris that she needed to go home "because she was acting out of character for her."

Mr Gravell then picked up Miss Morris, Ms Griffiths, and another friend, Adam Veale, to drive them to their homes, stopping at McDonald's first for Miss Morris to go in to get food. The inquest heard that the van arrived at Miss Morris's house at around 2.30-2.35am, dropping her off first, and that she had taken the unopened bottle of wine that she had previously bought.

"I knew she didn't have her key but I knew her mum and dad were in. I said 'Just wake your mum and dad up and knock the door,'" Ms Griffiths told the inquest. She added that she had then received a text from Miss Morris saying "love you" and that she later received a message from her with a picture of a gate and three missed calls – two at 2.51am and one at 2.52am.

A statement from Kyle Ninnis, a neighbour, said that he had woken up to the sound of a vehicle pulling up in the street at around 2.30am. He added that he then saw Miss Morris walk up the street, rather than into her house, before turning left onto a path, which was also captured on his CCTV camera. Mr Ninnis added: "From the way she was walking, I would say she was a bit unsteady on her feet."

The following day, Miss Griffiths said that she had been unable to contact Miss Morris, and had contacted Ms Marsh as a result. The inquest heard that Ms Griffiths called to the Morris's house between 3pm and 4pm on October 12 to ask Miss Morris's parents if they knew where she was.

Mr and Mrs Morris had been making their way to their caravan in Tenby, but received more messages asking if they knew where Brooke was and that they became aware that she had been reported missing, turning back to their house.

A statement from Detective Inspector Gareth Davies, that was read out to the inquest, said that he was made aware that a body had been found in the River Taff near Abercynon on October 16, 2019. At 4.20pm, DI Davies checked the body for vital signs but said there were none. DI Davies said that he had been "confident" that the body was that of Miss Morris, and Miss Morris's father later identified it to be her.

A toxicology report by Elizabeth Wasbrough found alcohol in Ms Morris's blood following a post-mortem examination. It was found that 245 mg of alcohol per 100 mm was found in her blood, but no other substance was found. The inquest heard that the level of alcohol in Ms Morris's system was "over three times the legal limit for driving" but that "Miss Morris was not under the influence of any other substances at the time of her death." A post mortem carried out by a Dr S James noted "clear signs of pro-longed emersion in the water" and recorded a medical cause of death as drowning.

Ms Marsh described Miss Morris as a "laid back" and "happy go lucky" person, and said: "Brooke does not take drugs. [She] does have a drink on the weekends if she's out or with me at my house." She added: "I don't think she would do anything to hurt herself," and added that Miss Morris had been looking forward to an upcoming rugby game and a trip to Poland with friends prior to her death.

Detective Constable Fay Price told the inquest that Miss Morris's family "seemed like a really happy family" and that, while Brooke's phone was not found, messages analysed by police suggested that there was "nothing at all" to suggest that Miss Morris had been experiencing any suicidal thoughts.

Gary Morris, Miss Morris's father, said that his daughter was "a very good swimmer." He added: "With Brooke, she was more of a party girl. Her perfect job would have been in Ibiza." He added that "she did keep herself to herself" but that, at a 50th birthday party held for Mrs Morris just a week prior to her death, Brooke was "the happiest [he'd] ever seen her. It never gave me cause for concern."

In her findings, Rachel Knight, assistant coroner for the South Wales Central area, said that "Brooke had been feeling low two weeks before her death, likely because of her wishes for a relationship not being reciprocated." She added that "likely due to the level of alcohol she had consumed, Brooke's behaviour was out of character and she had slapped a man who had made a comment about her eyebrows."

Ms Knight said that she "accept[ed] that the medical cause of death was drowning, with no other injuries of note." Delivering a narrative conclusion, she said that "some of [Miss Morris's] behaviour was out of character" and that she "did not go back into her house but walked to its rear and climbed a gate leading to one of the tributaries of the River Taff."

The coroner noted that, when Brooke's body was found in the River Taff near Abercynon on October 16, "she had drowned." She continued: "Brooke's intention in going to the bridge and entering the water could not be ascertained." Addressing Ms Morris's family, she added: "[Brooke] had a lot to live for and her death really is a tragedy."

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