Public needs to have faith in emergency procedures

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The full circumstances of the awful tragedy that befell Simon Burgess will, of course, have to be examined at an inquest.

But it is already clear from what we know of Thursday’s incident, and from what eyewitness Gill Hughes has added today, that serious questions are already being asked about the procedures put in place by our emergency services at times such as this.

When Ms Hughes dialled 999 she thought someone would arrive, jump in, pull Mr Burgess out of the boating lake in Walpole Park, Gosport, and attempt resuscitation until all hope had gone.

We are sure that is what many others would have expected to happen under the circumstances.

Learning that firefighters and police were not permitted to enter the water will fill them with shock and horror.

In the case of the police, ‘standard procedure’ meant officers at the scene deferred to their colleagues from the fire service, with an expectation that they would also use their own judgement to assess the situation and balance any potential risks.

In the case of the fire service, it was decided to wait for a specialist water crew to enter the lake, based on a judgement that there was no visible sign of life.

Yet the line between life and death is so fine that making a call like that must be very hard and the public, quite reasonably, will expect that everything possible will always be done to save a life.

Members of our emergency services regularly put themselves in danger and their lives on the line. We have praised them for that many times in the past.

But the public has a right to be concerned if they think health and safety – which we acknowledge is sometimes tarnished with a reputation it does not always deserve – should ever be allowed to hinder a rescue attempt.

There has been a growing unease about this issue for a while and although it won’t bring Mr Burgess back, the circumstances in this case and the response received must be looked at very carefully.

Procedures must be reviewed. Making sure that happens is in all of our interests.

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