TRIBUTES have been paid to Durham University engineering student Luke Pearce after a body found in the River Wear was confirmed to be his.

The rugby-loving 19-year-old, from Hounslow, West London, went missing in the early hours of Sunday, May 11 after drinking with friends in Durham city centre.

After a week of searches of the river and riverbank, including by students who helped look for him, his body was discovered yesterday morning (Sunday, May 18) near Baths Bridge by rowers.

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Mr Pearce, who was described by a friend as a “gentle giant”, was a popular member of the 1,200-student St Cuthbert’s Society, one of the university’s colleges.

University Pro Vice-Chancellor, Prof Graham Towl, said he was saddened by Mr Pearce’s death and concerned that he was the second student to die in the river recently.

“Student safety is very important to us at Durham and we very much regret what has happened on this occasion

“But I think that Durham is a safe city. We do a lot of work with our students in the induction period when they first come up here and talk to them about issues of personal safety.”

He added that the university would consider what lessons could be learned from the tragedy.

Prof Elizabeth Archibald, Principal of St Cuthbert’s Society, said:”We are all devastated, very shocked, very saddened and we feel very deeply for Luke’s family and many friends.

“He was a very popular young man. It was only his first year but he had made many friends and was well known and very well liked across the society and across his department.

“He was very sociable and passionate about sport, and played on various teams. He was very visible in the community.”

Prof Archibald said the university and students would consider holding a memorial event or events for Mr Pearce.

A Durham Police spokesman said: “A post mortem was conducted yesterday (Sunday), the results of which will now be forwarded the coroner.

“There are no suspicious circumstances and an inquest on Luke’s death is expected to open in the next few days.”

The County Durham Coroner is due to hold the opening inquest on Wednesday (May 21).

A full hearing will be held once investigations into Mr Pearce’s death have been completed.