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Warnings over deadly swim risk

A retired police frogman is warning of the dangers of swimming in open water after a haunting experience over 50 years ago.

While working for City of Bradford Police in the early 1960s Maurice Waugh, now of Woodland Avenue in Tadcaster, was called to an accident in the Wetherby area.

“I remember we attended a tragic incident at the river Wharfe at Collingham where I recovered the bodies of two local schoolchildren.

“One had gone in to help rescue his friend and the water wasn’t very deep. They were holding hands when we recovered.

“The thing that struck me on this occasion and many other similar occurrences is that these tragedies can occur in shallow water, children simply lose balance, panic and drown.

“Memories like this never fade. I’ve never been back there but every time I pass through Collingham, I remember that day.”

Mr Waugh issued his warning in response to the story recently run in the Wetherby News which highlighted posts made by members of the public on the Outdoor Swimming Society’s wildswim website recommending swimming in the Wharfe at Collingham.

“I just want to warn people of the dangers of the Wharfe, not just at Collingham but all along, especially now the warm weather is here,” added Mr Waugh.

“The river Wharfe is beautiful but extremely dangerous.

Mr Waugh said the police team was the first of its kind in the country and was formed to avoid the use of grappling hooks, and to persuade all mill owners to have their mill dams drained.

“My team used to visit schools and continually warn children of these dangers.

“I would like to think that in doing so we saved many lives.

“And I just want to get the message across to children and parents not to swim in the rivers.

“There are many hidden dangers and it is very easy to slip and then people panic and then the cold gets to you.”

But Lynne Roper, acting press officer for the Outdoor Swimming Society said they needed factual data to suggest that the stretch of water posed a danger to swimmers.

“We can’t just make a blanket ban. All rivers and open water pose dangers but what we need is actual evidence that we can see.”

She added: “We are not in the business of encouraging inappropriate behaviour around water.

“On the contrary we aim to allow the safe enjoyment of water in the outdoors; we spread awareness about issues such as cold acclimatisation and the specific dangers associated with open water (such as river currents, floods, and rip currents in the sea) so that people are informed enough to make their own risk assessments and judgements about where is safe to swim.”

And Ms Roper added: “Several of our members have swum safely in the river Wharfe at Collingham when conditions are right.

“Some of the comments left on the OSS wild swim map at the location in Collingham only serve to perpetuate misinformation.

“There is no such thing as a “hidden whirlpool” and all dangerous river features are visible if you know what to look for and what to expect.

Encouraging the safe appreciation of rivers, lakes and the sea through the promotion of understanding, knowledge and expertise should be a shared goal.

“Dire warnings to stay away from water have never worked and clearly continue not to work.”

The posted recommendation is still live on the website where a swimmer highlights that it is good for a dip, swim, and family friendly.

But there is now a warning that the river level rises rapidly after rain and much of the bank is muddy.

“There are many hidden dangers and it is very easy to slip and then people panic and then the cold gets to you.”

But Lynne Roper, acting press officer for the Outdoor Swimming Society said they needed factual data to suggest that the stretch of water posed a danger to swimmers.

“We can’t just make a blanket ban. All rivers and open water pose dangers but what we need is actual evidence that we can see.”

She added: “We are not in the business of encouraging inappropriate behaviour around water.

“On the contrary we aim to allow the safe enjoyment of water in the outdoors.”

And Ms Roper added: “Several of our members have swum safely in the river Wharfe at Collingham when conditions are right.

“Some of the comments left on the OSS wild swim map at the location in Collingham only serve to perpetuate misinformation.”

“Encouraging the safe appreciation of rivers, lakes and the sea through the promotion of understanding, knowledge and expertise should be a shared goal.

“Dire warnings to stay away from water have never worked.”

The Collingham site is still on the website, but warns of muddy banks.

 

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