Quay safety fence 'hampered rescue bid'

A DRAMATIC river rescue operation at Mistley at the weekend was hampered by the controversial quayside fence, leading to claims that it is putting lives at risk.

James Hore

A DRAMATIC river rescue operation at Mistley at the weekend was hampered by the controversial quayside fence, leading to claims that it is putting lives at risk.

Sailor Richard Blay and three others fell into the River Stour when their dinghy capsized in deep water on Saturday afternoon, sparking a major rescue operation involving emergency service crews.

Three people were pulled from the water by passing yachts, whilst the fourth was rescued by Harwich's RNLI inshore lifeboat after spending more than 20 minutes in the river.

The four, who lived locally, could only be brought ashore to waiting paramedics after coastguards and locals used bolt cutters removed a section of fence.

One woman was treated for mild hypothermia although no-one was seriously injured.

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Saturday's drama was the latest twist in the saga since TW Logistics (TWL), erected a 130-metre fence on the historic quayside last September for health and safety reasons.

The move infuriated locals who have had open access to the area for hundreds of years. They set up a campaign group, called Free The Quay, and have pushed for the fence to be removed.

The RNLI, which sent its inshore lifeboat, confirmed last night the rescue operation could have taken 25 minutes more if the fence panel had not been removed.

Furious residents are today planning to protest outside TWL's offices at the quay and demand the fence be removed.

Local resident Derek Bell helped the coastguard to remove the section of fence.

He said: “Thankfully this time they looked to be very distressed and cold but not seriously injured but what worries me is that the coastguards couldn't get that fence panel out without our help.

“What if no-one had been around? Every minute can count in a situation like this.

“Ever since the fence went up a year ago we have said it was an accident waiting to happen and now it has.”

Dave Hale, who lives in an apartment overlooking the river, said: “They had to remove the fence to get these people on to land. Everyone was out on their balconies looking out - the people looked okay, just wet but it did make me think about the fence because there are boats coming through the area the whole time and the quay is the only place they can land should anything happen.”

Keith Churchman, PR officer for Harwich RNLI, said: “Our helmsman said that the boat was only able to get to the quay because the fence had been removed - our priority was to get those people to shore and get them medical help.

“If the fence had not been removed, it would have taken probably another 25 minutes because, as the locals and anybody who has been down there will tell you, there are no suitable landing places except at the quay - you are talking about coming back up river.

“Our priority has got to be to get the people ashore into the hands of the paramedics as soon as possible.”

TWL was approached for comment, but had not responded at the time of going to press.