Water Safety and Life-saving Equipment

Part of Petition - Road Safety Outside Wingate Primary School – in the House of Commons at 6:46 pm on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 6:46 pm, 24th July 2019

Yes, I agree. We need to think about all watercourses. People do not need very much water to drown in, so we must be mindful of all the risks out there.

The issue of removal of and damage to lifebelts is not new by any matter or means. As George told me yesterday, the society has a poster dating from 1860 warning of the dangers of damaging life-saving equipment. Today the society officer, William Graham, along with its many volunteers, collects lifebelts from the river and restores them to their rightful position. George tells me that this is a daily job, with anything from a few lifebelts to up to 30 having to be recovered from the river.

The system of reporting that we have in place in Glasgow, instigated by the Glasgow Humane Society, is one where lifebelts and ropes are placed on neon yellow poles along the banks of the city waterways. That makes it very clear where the lifebelts are located and when they are missing. Coming in today, I noted that the ones placed along the Thames are a lot less clear, having been placed inside boxes, meaning that people cannot immediately tell if there is a lifebelt in there when they need it, and it could take them longer to reach, too, which is time that cannot be spared when somebody is in the water.

The neon poles I mentioned, along with other vital resources such as rescue ladders, are all GPS-tagged and display a code, such as UN25, in a system that is understood by the local emergency services. It helps people to describe their location accurately in an emergency and allows them to easily report missing lifebelts or have them recovered. I would commend the system to other Members with watercourses in their constituencies. It is incredibly useful to be able to pinpoint exactly where an incident has happened so that the emergency services can respond.

I would also like to pay tribute to campaigners in Glasgow, Margaret and Duncan Spiers, constituents of the hon. Member for Glasgow North East, who is here today, who lost their son in an accidental drowning in the Clyde in 2016. They are passionate in the face of such adversity to ensure that all is done to prevent anybody going through the same pain. Their son slipped and fell into the water. The police threw in lifebelts but could not reach him, and he died in less than 10 minutes. The whole event was captured on CCTV. I cannot imagine how awful it must have been for Christopher’s father, Duncan, to watch it back, knowing his son was so close to being saved. The Spiers have been tireless campaigners for water safety ever since and have succeeded in getting Glasgow City Council to install ropes to lifebelts along the banks of the Clyde. I am sure that all hon. Members would commend the Spiers for their campaign.

The Spiers hope that nobody has to experience what their family has gone through. They have taken the issue to the Scottish Parliament to ask for improvements, such as making ropes on lifebelts more common and providing life ropes and throw bags. More recently, they sought the use of specifically marked ropes so that, should they be removed, they could be easily identified if found in somebody’s possession, which would enable the crime to be traced back to somebody. At the moment, if someone removes lifesaving equipment or carelessly or recklessly throws it into the river, it is very hard to pursue them, to identify perpetrators and get some resolution, particularly as waterways are often in rural and isolated areas. We cannot put CCTV on every lifebelt post in the city of Glasgow, so there is much to do to deter people from doing this in the first place.

There does not seem to be a specific offence of tampering with lifesaving equipment. Any fines would be for vandalism or theft. Someone could be charged with culpable and reckless behaviour, but this all feels far too discretionary.