THE aunt of a man who died after attending a wedding in Belgium has paid tribute to a "funny and caring" nephew, who adored his six-year-old daughter.

Heartbroken aunty Leanne Pitt paid tribute to Jason Gapper, 33, from Southend.

He is believed to have died after falling into a freezing river while disorientated from drinking.

Leanne, also 33, said: "We are all just so shocked, the past few days have felt so surreal, like a bad dream.

"We can't believe that he has been taken from us - it was so sudden that it feels impossible.

"33 is no age to go - he had his whole life ahead of him.

Basildon Standard:

"He was just really funny and such a caring person. He loved music, animals and helping wherever he could.

"He had so much to look forward to, and was really enjoying life - he had a new job, was watching his daughter grow up and was due to be married.

"One moment he was here and the next he was gone.

"When we called the residential home he had just started working at they just told us what an inspiration he was to everyone who lived there, it had only been two weeks but they loved him.

"He always had a way with people and knew how to see the best in everyone."

Jason, a care home chef, had only recently started his new job in Southend.

He was just metres behind his fiance on the short walk from the wedding venue to their accommodation in Villerot when he disappeared.

Belgian police believe Jason's tragic death was accidental, his family say.

Police searched the area and found Jason's phone close to the entrance of the woods.

His body was found in the river near where he had been staying at around 4pm the following day - Sunday, February 10.

Dad-of-one Jason's family are now trying to raise £7,000 to repatriate his body back to the UK because he did not have travel insurance.

Leanne rushed to Villerot, a part of the city of Saint-Ghislainon in west Belgium, on Sunday to join the search effort with Jason's parents.

But Jason had been found by the time they arrived.

He worked as a charity fundraiser in Bristol for a number of years.

A Gofundme page has raised just under £2,000 of the £7,000 needed to bring Jason's body back to the UK.

Leanne added: "It's important for us as family to have him home, but most of all it's for his daughter - she needs to grow up knowing where her daddy is and knowing that she can go and see him.

"We could never have seen this coming and we couldn't pay such a large amount of money straight away.

"As soon as we were handed the bill and found out that it was going to be £7,000, I knew that I had to do whatever I could to get him home with us.

"We have an amazing response to the fundraiser so far, I can't believe how generous people have been and it goes to prove how many people's lives he touched in one way or another."