Parents question rescue team's delay

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THE PARENTS of Simon Dunne, the Plymouth teenager who died alongside three school friends in a canoeing accident in Lyme Bay, Dorset, yesterday demanded to know why it took so long to rescue their son.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the tragedy, Noel Dunne, a Ministry of Defence Police sergeant, said: 'If they (the rescuers) had got there half an hour earlier they would still be alive.'

His wife, Sylvia, said: 'We're not pointing the finger of blame.' But both question why it took more than four hours to rescue the first survivors after the 11-strong canoeing party failed to arrive back at Lyme Regis at 1pm on Monday.

Mr Dunne said he heard about the accident on the news. 'The report halfway through said two upturned canoes had been found in Lyme Regis Bay. I didn't really think any more of it. But as more and more facts came out that they were from Plymouth and Southway School it became a possibility that Simon was involved.'

Both parents went to the school to wait for news. As more and more children began ringing in to reassure their parents they were safe, they decided to return home to see if their son had left a message on the answerphone. But he had not. Soon afterwards they learnt Simon, 16, was dead. Mr Dunne recalled: 'It was ten to ten. I saw a car pull up outside with two officers in it. I knew then. It was the realisation.'

The Dunnes described their son as a 'sensible lad' with a 'wicked sense of humour' who had loved outdoor sports and football and always rose to a challenge. But he had no experience of canoes.

During their last conversation with him they learnt that he had already been canoeing. Afterwards that led them to hope he was not part of the tragedy. 'But we had been building bridges for ourselves only to have them knocked down,' Mr Dunne said.

Neither parent now wants school trips to end. 'It is part of growing up,' Mrs Dunne said. 'Perhaps they should learn from it . . .'

(Photograph omitted)