Girl, 12, dies after being thrown from her pony into river

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The body of a 12-year-old girl who was swept away by a swollen river after being thrown from her pony was recovered by police.

Charlotte Saunders was riding with two friends when she tried to follow them across a ford on the Okement River on the edge of Dartmoor in north Devon. Her pony, Charlie, is believed to have bucked and thrown her in to the water at lunchtime yesterday.

The river, which is normally three inches (7.5cm) deep, had been swollen to a 3ft-deep torrent by rain in the previous 24 hours.

Charlotte was an experienced rider; her father, David, runs a riding school half a mile from the scene of the accident near Okehampton.

Charlotte's cousin, Dudley Luxton, said: "She was at the back and it seems the horse reared and she was swept down the river."

Her body was found 400 yards (370 metres) downstream two hours later following a search involving fire crews, police and a police helicopter. A SeaKing search and rescue helicopter was used to help recover the body which is believed to have become tangled in undergrowth.

Members of the schoolgirl's family had joined the search and were present when police found the body. A search control centre was set up at Okehampton Community College, where Charlotte was a pupil.

The college's headteacher, Chris Powell, who joined police at the scene, said: "She was a normal, fun-loving girl and this is a terrible tragedy. We will have to be very sensitive in dealing with the pupils when they come back to school on Monday after half term."

The pony was found two hours later near Charlotte's home at Eastlake Farm.