Dad’s heartache after son with cerebral palsy is found dead in River Wear on Christmas Eve

editorial image

A dad has told of his heartache after his beloved son was found dead on Christmas Eve in what is thought to have been a tragic river accident.

The body of 22-year-old Ross Anthony Irwin, who had cerebral palsy, was discovered in the River Wear in Fatfield, Washington, on Saturday.

The bridge over the River Went at Fatfield. Picture by FRANK REID

The bridge over the River Went at Fatfield. Picture by FRANK REID

Ross, who worked at the Child Benefit Centre in Waterview Park in Washington, had been on a night out and his family believe he fell into the water.

He was last seen telling friends he was going to get a taxi to Sunderland.

Thousands of pounds have already been raised by devastated pals to pay for funeral costs.

It was on Saturday morning that Ross’s dad Dave was called by police and told a body had been found in Fatfield.

Ross, of Fence Houses, had been due to have his Christmas dinner with Dave, his wife Nicola, 34, and their son Jack, 12, after spending Christmas Eve with his mum Debbie Herkes, 52.

“He’d been out drinking in Fatfield straight from work,” said Dave, 43, of Oxclose, who is a training officer at Tyne and Fire and Rescue Service’s training centre in Barmston, Washington.

“Opposite the River Bar down there is a gap in the fence and we think that’s where he’s gone through and slipped into the river. There’s only a small gap between the grass and the edge so he must have fallen in and hit his head.”

As well as being brothers, Ross and Jack also shared a passion for superheroes and comics and they were due to be together on Christmas Day for dinner.

“Me, Ross and Jack went to the pictures to see the new Star Wars film on Thursday and he stayed here on Thursday night,” added Dave.

“We had a really good time and when I dropped him off at work the next morning we were laughing because he’d left his pass. We never expected anything like this to happen. He was a loving, caring lad and he had a great sense of humour.”

Read more: Tributes paid to 22-year-old pulled from river

Despite being diagnosed with cerebral palsy at two meant he walked with a waddle, former Houghton Kepier and Usworth Sixth Form pupil Ross never let the condition affect him, despite having operations when he was younger.

“He had a little phrase he’d use ‘you know I’m disabled, don’t you?’ which was his way of joking about things,” said Dave.

“He’d recently been told his contract job was going to be made permanent and that made him really happy.

“He came to Tenerife with me Nicola and Jack this year and we’d booked up to go again in February, as well as Miami and Orlando in July and August.

“Ross was really looking forward to it, which makes things even harder.”

Since his sudden death, well-wishers have set up a Just Giving page in his memory to offer support to his family.

To date the total has reached almost £3,300.

“We knew Ross was a popular lad but to see all of the comments on Facebook and the Just Giving page have given us real comfort,” said Dave.

“To raise that much money already is amazing. We’ve never asked anyone to pay for his funeral. People say it’s what they want to do.

“It just shows how much people thought of him.”

Police confirmed that the body of a 22-year-old man had been recovered from the River Wear, near to Fatfield Bridge, shortly after 9am on Saturday.

They added that there is no suspected third party involvement and a report is being prepared for the coroner.”

To donate to the appeal in Ross’s memory go to

A funeral date is to be confirmed in due course.