Attitudes towards river and lake swimming in the UK have changed considerably in past decades. In 1908 the book; “Scouting for Boys” by Robert Baden-Powell included some straightforward advice – “A moderate swimmer can save the life of a drowning man if he knows how, and has practiced a few times with his friends.” The British were then proud of their swimmers, but as times changed and swimmers were moved indoors the Nation became more and more suspicious of outdoor swimming.
In 1973 the public safety film Lonely Water did in one and a half minutes what authorities had been trying to do for decades, scare people out of open water. Fears about water quality and hidden weeds had set the seeds of suspicion but this film drove the final nails into the coffin of old style wild swimming. Parents made certain that their youngsters were not going to fall pray to the grim reaper.
Now as only ‘fools, show offs and those who ignore no swimming signs’ were still splashing about, water safety advice changed from how to enjoy the water and help others into on no account go in to open water.
This Week our health and safety culture cost the life of a young man: Jack Susianta, who drowned in the canal as a hundred people looked on in horror. The Mirror reports: “Police officers refused to enter a canal to help a drowning boy and prevented bystanders from jumping in… he tried to escape from the police (who were perusing him out of concern for his safety) he ended up in a canal at Lea Bridge Road, Hackney. Eyewitnesses said Jack was struggling to swim but refused to grab on to rings which were thrown towards him.”
“As around a hundred people watched on, Fiona Okonkwo, 42, said she wanted to go in to try and help Jack but officers wouldn’t allow her. She told the Evening Standard: “The police officers refused to jump in after him and said they can’t do it. I was going to jump in after him but they stopped me. “The police told us there were weeds underneath the water, that it was too dangerous and they could get dragged down.” Another witness wrote online: “The police were trying to help him get out but he purposefully was moving away from help.” Witnesses claimed one police officer eventually entered the water around ten minutes after Jack failed to resurface.”
Their is no doubt that the police officers involved would not have taken their decision lightly. But just compare attitudes today with those a few decades ago. I feel certain that this boy would not have died if even one boy scout of the old school were somewhere nearby.