Statement from the Council on River Safety

Posted on July 22, 2011

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I met today with leader of the Council of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames – Councillor Derek Osbourne, to discuss river safety further following the tragic death of friend and law student Niall Pawsey.

Councillor David Ryder Mills, tabled the following question to Mr Osbourne in the Council meeting on 5th July:

Following the Tragic death in the River Thames of law student, Niall Pawsey, could the Leader of the Council outline what steps are being taken to improve riverside safety?

The Leader, Councillor Osbourne replied:

Firstly may I take this opportunity on behalf of Councillors present to extend our condolences to the family and friends of Niall Pawsey for their tragic loss, which is indeed a tragedy, one that occasionally happens in all the riverside boroughs.

Mr Mayor, the Council recognises that the riverside walk is an attractive open area that draws large numbers of visitors to enjoy the ambience of this, I think, unique riverside location in the town centre. The Council has often reviewed and taken action to provide appropriate safety measures on the riverside, and we have also taken steps, with a wide range of partners, to influence those factors that are beyond our direct control.

The Council has provided lifesaving equipment along the full length of the River Thames that falls within the Borough boundary and this is equipment is regularly checked and any missing items are replaced without delay.

In terms of publicity, the Council provides posters and ‘beer mats’ to licenced premises with a clear and potentially shocking message about the consequences of drinking and entering the river. What people forget is the nature of the undertow in this stretch of the river…. But included in the publicity is a targeted message aimed at young males who, unfortunately make up a large proportion of national inland drowning incidents, for all the reasons that all of us who are males will probably understand.

Riverside safety has continued to be important and work continues through Pubwatch to encourage licensed premises to hold safety equipment, and to train current staff in its use. On 21st June lifeboatmen from RNLI provided training for a group of 40 pub staff, street pastors and Councillors, teaching basic lifeguarding skills, including water related first aid and how to assess river risks, whilst staff at the Teddington Life Boat Station showed how they could speed up their responses during incidents.

In addition Kingston First has purchased rope rescue aids for riverside venues.

Whatever the Council might do physically on the riverside, deaths will only be prevented if the licensed premises along the river and, importantly, the University and the Council along with the Students’ Union, work together to make sure that users of entertainment venues along the river understand the risks of the river and have rescue equipment in place with staff trained to use it. The Council is committed to working with the University and with the students, with the licenced premises and with Kingston First in an attempt to prevent further tragedy.

I would like to say that there will never be an incident like this again.  I think that is the stupidest statement the Council could say. We are talking about human behaviour. What we can do is try to prevent this happening again.

I am, of course, aware that Niall’s friends and colleagues have set up a petition, which they will present to Council seeking assurances on issues they have identified. Mr Mayor, I can give assurance that Kingston Council takes river safety as a very serious issue and will, together with local business and agencies, continue to promote safe use of the riverside and discourage people from entering the river.

I will be meeting further with the leader to take forward an awareness campaign on river safety for Freshers week and will keep you up to date on my blog.

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