Fury over rescue delay after man dies in Gosport lake

ANGER Gill Hughes is angry at emergency services' response to Simon Burgess' death
ANGER Gill Hughes is angry at emergency services' response to Simon Burgess' death

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A WOMAN has spoken of her anger at firefighters and police who stood by without rescuing a man found floating face down in a lake.

Gill Hughes dialled 999 after seeing Simon Burgess floating in the water at Walpole Park in Gosport.

TRIBUTES Simon Burgess

TRIBUTES Simon Burgess

But the 53-year-old says the emergency services’ response was a disgrace after they refused to wade in to reach the man.

Instead, they decided to wait for a specialist water rescue unit from Fareham.

Ms Hughes claims that firefighters even used a measuring stick to see how deep the lake was. She is now calling for a public inquiry into how the incident was handled.

Mr Burgess, 41, of White Lion Walk, Gosport, was known to visit the boating lake every day to feed the swans.

Ms Hughes said: ‘He could have still been alive. How did they know it was too late for him? It’s a disgrace. I’ve got no faith in the fire brigade now.

‘I said “go and get him, he’s only been in there five minutes”. But they said they couldn’t. Whether he was dead by that time I don’t know.

‘I asked one of them why they didn’t go in and he said they couldn’t go any deeper than ankle deep.’

Ms Hughes, of Beryton Road, Gosport, said Mr Burgess was feeding swans when he suddenly started wading through the water.

She added: ‘He was just feeding the swans and the next minute he walked in. I said “get out of there” but he kept on. Next minute he was lying face down in the water.’

Gosport firefighters were the first to arrive at the scene on Thursday but decided there was no visible sign of life.

As reported yesterday in The News, emergency services say they didn’t enter the lake because of the potential risk. Hampshire fire service refused to speak to The News about their handling of the incident as they said they were busy responding to the Japan earthquake crisis.

They released a statement with details of their response, as shown in the timeline, right.

Police spokesman Sally Adams said: ‘An officer at the scene was willing to recover the body but was told by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service that a specialist team was en route to do this.

‘In this instance, the rescue service had deemed no-one to be at risk as the man in the pond had been in the water for considerable time and was showing no signs of life.’

‘Epilepsy may have contributed to his death’

GRIEVING friends and colleagues of Simon Burgess say his epilepsy may have contributed to his death.

Mr Burgess would visit Walpole Park every day to feed the swans and pigeons there.

He was a regular volunteer at the Rose Road Association shop in North Cross Street, Gosport.

The 41-year-old suffered from a form of epilepsy, and would have regular blackouts and seizures.

Assistant manager Trina Horey said: ‘He had brain surgery a few years ago.

‘He had a form of epilepsy and had been having more fits and falls recently.

‘That could have been what happened.

‘He was absolutely devoted to birds and he loved the swans. That was his life.

‘He was my friend. I’m shocked, devastated and angry about people who didn’t do anything.’

Fred Weeks, 68, of Church Path, Gosport, used to feed the swans in Walpole Park with Mr Burgess twice a week.

He said: ‘He should be recognised for all his hard work looking after those swans down there.

‘He told me once that if I ever saw him go near the edge of the water I should pull him back, because he would probably be having a blackout.

‘I stopped going down there after a while but if I had been there that day I would have known what was happening to him.’


· 12.11pm approx: Gill Hughes sees Simon Burgess wading through Walpole Park lake.

· 12.16pm: Ms Hughes spots the man floating face down in the water and dials 999.

· 12.17pm: Firefighters alerted to incident. Control room dispatches fire crews and specialist water unit.

· 12.21pm approx: First fire crew, from Gosport, arrives on scene.

· 12.24pm approx: Police officers arrive.

· 12.31pm approx: Second fire crew and specialist water support unit, both from Fareham, arrive and enter the water.

Police yesterday said the body was retrieved at 12.45pm, but fire service could not confirm this.

· 1.28pm: Crews return to station.