Swimmers win right to a chilly dip

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The Independent Online

Swimmers today won their High Court battle with "the nanny state" over "the right to take risks" and bathe in a natural pond on chilly winter mornings.

Swimmers today won their High Court battle with "the nanny state" over "the right to take risks" and bathe in a natural pond on chilly winter mornings.

The legal challenge was brought by the Hampstead Heath Winter Swimming Club against the Corporation of London.

Last July the Corporation rejected the club's proposals for early morning, self-regulated swimming in the Mixed Pond on the heath in north London.

The club wants the pond reserved for the exclusive use of experienced club members during the winter season and not open to the public.

The Corporation's refusal was linked to safety fears and concern that it could be at risk of prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive.

Today Mr Justice Burnton ruled the Corporation had fallen into legal error and said swimmers should be able to swim at their own risk.

He spoke out in favour of "individual freedom" and against "a grey and dull safety regime" being imposed on everyone.

He said: "The Corporation's grant to the club of permission to swim unsupervised in the mixed pond will not of itself render it liable to prosecution ..."

The judge ruled the Corporation's refusal to allow club swimmers to bathe when lifeguards were not present at the pond was based on a misapprehension of the law.

Later several swimmers welcomed the ruling as "a victory over the nanny state" which could also help others take risks for fun.

Mary Kane, chair of the winter swimming club, said: "This is great news for the club and for public bodies like the Corporation.

"The judge has clarified the scope of the Health and Safety at Work Act, and the Corporation, freed from the threat of prosecution, can now grant the club the permission the club has been seeking for the past two years.

"This was a test case with wide implications for all open water swimming in England and represents another successful attack by ordinary citizens on the 'nanny state' and the government-sponsored cult of 'health and safety'."

Ms Kane said the club was proud to have played its part "in re-establishing an important principle of personal freedom in this country, which is taken for granted everywhere else, that responsible adults must be free to decide for themselves whether to pursue recreational activities involving an element of risk."