Lake rescue victim 'condemned to death' says mother

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A mother today accused a fire brigade of condemning her son to death for not going into a frozen lake to rescue him because of policy.

Philip Surridge went into the icy water on December 21 to help friend Paul Litchfield as he tried to rescue his wife's dog.

The men had been on a shooting trip when the tragedy struck at Brightwell Lake, near Great Addington, Northamptonshire.

An inquest at Kettering Coroner's Court heard Stephen Smith, owner of a nearby livery yard, desperately tried to help Mr Surridge when he found him in the water.

But firefighters called to the scene did not go into the lake because it was against policy - instead waiting for specialist teams.

By the time they arrived Mr Surridge had sunk out of sight. Despite searches, his body was not found until the following day. Mr Litchfield was found on December 30 by police divers. The dog, Amy, survived.

Today Mr Surridge's mother Beryl Hindlaugh said at least one firefighter should have gone into the water, despite policy.

She said: "I know that if a member of the fire brigade had gone in along with Stephen I am sure my son had the mental and physical strength to bring himself out of the water.

"That is why he kept shouting and asking, 'Do not let me die'. I am so sorry to sit here and have to face the fire brigade because the fire brigade condemned my son to his death.

"I am sure that Philip would have had the inner strength, because he had too much to live for."

The inquest heard Mr Surridge, 42, from Corby, Northants, and Mr Litchfield, 30, from Raunds, Northants, both died from immersion in water.

Mr Smith said he found Mr Surridge, who had broken through ice, at around 5pm after he heard shouting from the lake. Nearby was a dog, also in the water.

He said Mr Surridge was shouting: "Don't let me die, get me out, I can't hold on any longer."

He told the court he waded as far as he could before being blocked by thick ice, tying clothes together to make a rope, as well as using branches.

But he was frustrated that no firemen came into the water to help.

"I can't explain the overwhelming relief when I saw other people coming, but nothing seemed to happen in that first time until later on," he told the inquest.

"I was left feeling frustrated with the fire brigade and the slow process of the rescue considering the urgency of the situation."

Kevin Brown, crew manager of the first fire engine on the scene, said they tried to rescue Mr Surridge using "throw lines" but they were not long enough.

He said: "Crew members were keen to go into the water to try and effect a rescue but my instructions were to not let them into the water."

The inquest heard they did not try a "hose inflation" device as it would not have been long enough, but Mr Brown said in hindsight he may have tried it.

Under questioning from Northamptonshire coroner Anne Pember he said it would have been long enough if the crew had more lengths of hose with them - which were back in the fire engine.

Firefighter David Wilson told the court a fireman did not get into the water because: "It's against our policy, we're not allowed to do it."

Replying to Mrs Hindlaugh's comments, he said: "We were 60 to 120 seconds short of rescuing your son that night and we did everything we could to perform that rescue."

When asked by the coroner if anything would be different if the same situation happened again, Northamptonshire fire and rescue's head of operations, Paul Pells, said it would not.

He said: "I am satisfied that all personnel followed policy and did everything correctly with the equipment they had."

When asked why a firefighter did not tie a rope round himself and try to help, he said it was not a "safe system of work".

He said: "This is a national as well as local policy and has been specifically written because in the past firefighters have tried these lines and tied these lines to them and died trying to effect a rescue.

"I believe if we had let a member of the public or a firefighter who was not trained (into the water), there would have been a fatality for another member of the public and a firefighter."

But Mrs Hindlaugh told him "humanity" should have kicked in for the firemen at the scene.

"Why was there not one out of the first fire crew seeing that gentleman, knowing that he had got in, knowing that my son was still alive... why did humanity not kick in?" she said.

"Because Philip would have assisted you, because he had been in the water so long but he still had the strength and the willpower to live."

Recording verdicts of accidental death for both men, coroner Anne Pember warned people of the dangers of going into water to save animals, saying: "It quite frankly is not worth the risk to human life."

She said she plans to write to the Royal Humane Society to recommend Mr Smith for a bravery award.