'Lives lost and families destroyed' - call for action over bridge deaths

MP Dr Dan Poulter, Tina Davis and Caroline Rutherford

MP Dr Dan Poulter, Tina Davis and Caroline Rutherford from Just42 all feel action needs to be taken over Orwell Bridge deaths. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown/Chris Sharman/Gregg Brown

An urgent call for action has gone out from Orwell Bridge safety campaigners to prevent more lives being destroyed.

Working alongside MP Dan Poulter, campaigners are calling for additional prevention measures including so-called suicide barriers to be installed on the Orwell Bridge to prevent it becoming a "focal point" for deaths in Suffolk.

The man, aged in his 40s, was found in the River Orwell on Sunday hours after a road closure was put in place on the A14. His death is not being treated as suspicious. 

Dr Dan Poulter MP.

Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Dr Poulter, who represents Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said: "I'm very sorry to hear of more tragic incidents on the bridge. 

"We need to find a way to make the bridge more secure, and putting barriers is a way to stop people jumping over the bridge."

He added that Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, who is responsible for mental health services in the area, has worked hard to offer support and spent its additional investment well. 

But pointed out that half of those that take their own lives are "often not known to services". 

The psychiatric doctor added:  "It's a very impulsive act when they come to walk to the bridge."

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He said the physical barriers have worked elsewhere in crisis prevention and these lessons need to be drawn on for the Orwell Bridge. 

"It's about saving lives, and it needs to be addressed head-on," he said. "Lives have been lost and families destroyed, and they need us to come up with a plan. 

"This issue affects the whole of the county and we know people travel from elsewhere to the bridge."  

He will meet with Suffolk County Council and National Highways at an Ipswich Transport Task Force meeting to discuss the issue in-depth next week.   

Tina Davis, who lost her son Nathan Davis in 2011, said: "I am in for a campaign for action all the way. In the last 10 years, I feel a pang every time I hear this happens on the bridge. 

"It brings back painful memories and anger and frustration that this is still happening."

Ms Davis, who has worked with the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), added the Clifton Suspension Bridge has been shown to have its deaths lowered due to barriers being installed. The British Journal of Psychiatry said rates of suicide had fallen in the 1990s due to this change. 

She added that mental health services "still needs funding" but suicide prevention relies on methods being less easy to access. 

Jayne Stevens, CEO of mental health charity Suffolk User Forum, wanted to steer clear from talking about the bridge but said there are lots of resources available for people seeking help. 

Ms Stevens said: "We both understand and have great empathy for the extreme distress and difficulties that people may experience in their lives. 

"Every death to suicide is a tragedy for the person, their family, loved ones, friends and colleagues.

"This is why we do everything we can to encourage people to reach out for help and to promote support services. We have worked with people who live with suicidal thoughts to produce ‘LISTEN for Suicide Prevention’. 

"This booklet explores ways of managing suicidal thoughts and feelings. It is a supportive resource that can help people to manage suicidal thoughts and builds confidence for us all to start open conversations to help prevent suicide."

Pictured from Just 42 is Caroline Rutherford. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Caroline Rutherford is this week's community hero - Credit: Gregg Brown

Caroline Rutherford, from Suffolk rural young people's charity Just42, said her heart "sinks" every time she hears of a death near her Felixstowe home. 

"I'm not an expert or an engineer, but I know that measures have been taken at other bridges both in the UK and around the world and the results made the expense worthwhile.

"We are failing people if we don't do anything about it. I know that we can only take certain measures to reduce the risks and the numbers, but we must do something. There wasn't a footpath there at all before the bridge was built, [highways] has created a pathway across and therefore access to a tall bridge."

If you need help and support, call Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust’s First Response helpline 0808 196 3494 or the Samaritans on 116 123. Both services are available 24 hours 7 days a week. You can also download the Stay Alive app on Apple & Android.