Brigade Criticised After Lake Deaths

28 October 2010, 14:45 | Updated: 28 October 2010, 14:56

The mother of one of two wildfowlers who drowned in an ice-covered lake has criticised fire fighters who would not go into the water to try to rescue her son.

Beryl Hindlaugh praised a member of the public who had gone up to his waist into the freezing water in an attempt to save Paul Surridge.

The man Stephen Smith told an inquest that he was "frustrated" that the first fire crew on the scene would not go in and simply threw lines from the side.

Mr Surridge, 42, had gone into Brightwell Lakes, Great Addington, Northants in an attempt to help his friend and shooting partner Paul Litchfield, 30.  Mr Litchfield, a wild fowl dealer, had gone onto the ice covered lake in an attempt to rescue his labrador-spaniel cross dog called Amy.

The friends had been shooting on December 21 last year when there was a heavy snow storm. It is thought the dog had gone onto the thin ice to retrieve a shot bird and had fallen through.

Stephen Smith, who was feeding his horses nearby, told Kettering Coroner's Court he had heard shouting. He said: "I went to the lake and all I could see was a head bobbing and a dog on the ice. I heard the man shouting : 'Don't let me die. Don't let me die. I can't hold on any longer."

Mr Smith called the emergency service and  took off the bottom half of his clothes and waded into the water, breaking the ice. He was upto to his waist in freezing water throwing ropes and branches at Mr Surridge who was 30 metres away.

Mr Smith, who runs a livery business, said he called out: "Don't die on me now." He said he was in the water for 10 to 15 minutes.

When the first fire crew arrived at the scene from Irthlingborough fire station he said he was very frustrated that they would not go into the water even though he had been in up to his waist. "I was left very frustrated and wondered why nobody entered the water."

Kevin Brown, the crew manager from the Irthlingborough fire station who were the first on the scene, said he and his crew threw lines at Mr Surridge but they did not reach. He said his team did not go into the water after he had carried out a "dynamic risk assessment."

He said: "I decided it was inappropriate to go into the water due to the temperature. I was aware the Swift Water Response team was only 3 or 4 minutes behind."

His crew had brought one inflatable fire hose from their engine but he said it was too short to reach Mr Surridge. Other hoses were left in his vehicle because they had so much equipment to carry to the scene. None of his team had dry water suits to go into the water.

The second crew from Wellingborough fire station arrive a few minutes later, but by then Mr Surridge had disappeared under the water for the final time.

Trained fire fighters in dry suits went out on the ice and three boats. Although the dog was recovered alive there was no sign of the two men. After two hours the search ended.

The body of Mr Surridge, who lived as Primrose Close, Corby and cared for his partner, was discovered the next day. Mr Litchfield, who lives in Langham Road, Raunds, Northants was not found until December 30.

Philip Pells, the Head of Operations at Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue, said correct procedures had been followed by the fire fighters and did not think in hindsight anything would have been different.

Mr Surridge's mother Beryl Hindlaugh, 64, told the hearing : "I feel the fire fighters condemned my son to death. "My son was shouting and yelling. He had the strength to yell, why didn't one go out into the water and try to get a line to him."

She told Mr Smith: "Thank you for your courageous efforts. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You did not allow him to die alone."

Northamptonshire Coroner Anne Pember thanked Mr Smith for what she described as his "valiant" efforts. She said she would be writing to the Royal Humane Society to recommend him for an award.

Recording verdicts of accidental death she said the public needed to be informed of the dangers of going out onto ice even to rescue a pet. "It is not worth the risk to life," she said.