Drowning in Bawsey Pits: Coroner to submit report

A bunch of flowers placed at the entrance to Bawsey after Tuesday nights double tragedy.
A bunch of flowers placed at the entrance to Bawsey after Tuesday nights double tragedy.
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A report on action needed to prevent a repeat of the drowning of two men at Bawsey Pits in the summer is to be submitted by Norfolk’s senior coroner.

Jacqueline Lake made the announcement at the conclusion of the inquest into the death of Lynn man Ryan Pettengell on Tuesday.

The coroner said she was proposing to submit a report to West Norfolk Council, Norfolk County Council, the police and other community groups looking into what action was needed – although a health and safety expert from West Norfolk Council said no prosecutions are being considered against the owners of the land.

She spoke after a jury had returned a verdict of accidental death on Mr Pettengell, 41, of Railway Road in Lynn.

The hearing had heard that Mr Pettengell had no drink or drugs in his body on the day he died but had simply got into trouble trying to swim to an island in the ‘Big Lake’ at Bawsey, thinking a missing youth the police were searching for may be there.

Despite the desperate efforts of his girlfriend Lauren Cole and to the horror of his watching friends and two policemen, Mr Pettengell was seen to go under the water and drown.

The inquest held in Norwich had heard that on July 16 last year, Mr Pettengell had been with Miss Cole and four other friends and their four children when it was decided to take advantage of the warm weather and go up to Bawsey Pits late in the afternoon.

PC Ryan Williams told the inquest that he and another policeman had been helpless as they saw Mr Pettengell drowning in front of them.

They had been engaged in the search for the other missing youth when they heard Miss Cole screaming. He had seen Mr Pettengell “bobbing in the water ... not making progress”. He had seen Miss Cole’s attempted rescue with the branch but had been unable to assist as both he and his colleague were “not competent swimmers”.

Vicky Hopps, a health and safety officer with West Norfolk Council said the car park at the pits was the official entrance but the site was “porous” meaning people could gain entry from almost anywhere. Warning signs were regularly vandalised.

Seven recommendations had been made following her inspection, including regular inspections of signage on the site, marking map references in areas of danger so people calling for help can guide the emergency services, the use of foreign languages in warning signs, reduce access to the pits by the use of “aggressive planting” such as nettles or bracken or using black dye in the water to make it look less attractive. Also important was educational work in schools.

Ms Hopps said that closing the site would be “a last resort” as the cost of fencing and security on such a big area would be very high. Despite the anti-social behaviour that plagued it now, it was enjoyed by dog walkers, people on bikes and runners.

She said the owners Sibelco had taken “all reasonable measures they could and the council were not taking any further action”.

Under questioning she said that provision of lifebelts on the site was a dilemma. “This water is not safe to swim in and anything that discourages people from swimming in it is a good thing,” she said.

Ms Hopps said the company did weekly checks on signs and that she suggested increasing that but added: “The signs can be up one day and removed the next ... when I was at the pits the next day (to the drowning) people were swimming in the water. It is a difficult site to police if people are ignoring warning signs.”