By JR on Thursday, February 23, 2012
How low can you go? Man drowned in lake just 3ft deep after firemen refused to wade in due to health and safety rules
A charity worker drowned in a 3ft deep lake when a policeman and a paramedic were ordered not to try to rescue him. Simon Burgess, 41, was left to float face down as emergency crews watched.
Health and safety rules stopped them going more than ankle deep into the lake, an inquest was told yesterday.
According to a doctor, Mr Burgess’s life could have been saved had he been removed from the water quickly.
The constable and the ambulance worker who volunteered to jump into the lake were given strict orders not to do so by fire station watch manager Tony Nicholls.
PC Tony Jones arrived at the scene on foot shortly after Mr Burgess fell into the water while feeding swans. He told the inquest: ‘When I spoke to witnesses and found out the body hadn’t been there long I told my sergeant I was willing to go into the water. ‘He authorised me to do so and I took off my body armour but Mr Nicholls advised me strongly not to go in.
‘I said I would go in anyway and asked if I could borrow his life jacket but he said “No”, but I was going to do it regardless. It didn’t sit right with me that no one was going to get the body or assist the person in the water.
‘The control room was informed I was going in and they sent a message that under no circumstances could I go in the water.’
Paramedic Robert Wallace told the hearing he also offered to attempt to retrieve the body from the water at Walpole Park in Gosport, Hampshire. ‘I’m trained to swim in currents you go white water rafting in, but Mr Nicholls told me he didn’t want my help,’ he said.
Mr Nicholls, who is based at Gosport fire station, told the inquest that he understood the body had been in the water for five to ten minutes. ‘There were no obvious signs of life so from that I made an assessment it was a body retrieval and not a rescue,’ he said.
‘The officers were trained to go into ankle deep water, which is level one, so we waited for level two officers, who can go into chest high.
‘One of the police officers told me he would like to go in the water and I advised him in the strongest terms not to. A paramedic told me he was level two water trained, but when I asked him if he had protective equipment he said “No”, so that was the end of that.
‘I was under immense pressure from the three witnesses to go into the water but I gave them a short answer. ‘The specialist team arrived and three officers went in and removed the body.’
A witness told of her frustration at seeing 999 workers stand and wait. Gillian Hughes said the specialist team measured the depth of the water with a pole and even called for a press officer before recovering Mr Burgess’s lifeless body. This was almost 30 minutes after the earlier teams arrived.
Mrs Hughes, 53, said Mr Burgess fell in while trying to retrieve a plastic bag from the water. ‘He looked like he was swimming and had a smile on his face,’ she said.
‘The next minute he had stopped and was lying face down. The firemen arrived with the police and I said “He’s only been there five or ten minutes so if you hurry you might save him”.
‘He just said “We’re not allowed’ and I said “But that’s your job”. Mr Burgess was only 20ft away. I thought they would get him straight away. ‘I believe one of the police went in to get him but was told he was not allowed. I said to one of the firemen “Why don’t you go in?” and he said they couldn’t if the water was higher than ankle deep. ‘I said “You’re having a laugh”. He said “No, that’s health and safety”.
‘After the incident I was unable to sleep because I kept blaming myself and now I have to live with it.’
Brett Lockyer, a registrar of histopathology, told the inquest there were signs Mr Burgess had fallen into the lake because of an epileptic seizure, following unsuccessful brain surgery to ease his condition.
‘If he had been taken out of the water after ten minutes there is a slim chance he could have been resuscitated,’ he said.
‘The seizure would’ve made it look like he was swimming and explains why he had a grin on his face.’