Primary school children avoid injury after Denver Mill sail comes loose

Schoolchildren narrowly escaped serious injury during a 'dramatic' incident at a historic mill in the Fens this afternoon.

A party of 29 Year One pupils and staff from Clenchwarton Community Primary School were enjoying a visit to Denver Windmill when a sail came loose and sent debris around the complex as the rest of the sails continued to spin.

Mark and Lindsay Abel, who rent the six-storey building from the Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust (NHBT), have been praised by the school for acting quickly to ensure people were taken to safety following the incident just before 2pm.

Last night Mrs Abel said: 'It was very dramatic. The sails were working fine one minute and the next one came loose and sent bits of the windmill and tiles from a nearby roof all over the site.

'There was a group of around 10 pupils in the back yard while this was all happening and they were no more than six feet away from the falling debris.

'It's a miracle nobody was seriously hurt considering the extent of the damage to the sail, windmill and nearby building.

'My daughter risked her life to run through the yard where the debris was flying to put on the brake and now the sail is wedged under another sail but still dangerously dangling overhead.'

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'We have now made sure the site is safe and we are not allowing anyone in the back yard.'

Georgie Earl, acting headteacher at Clenchwarton Community Primary School, added: 'My staff were full of praise for the Denver Windmill staff for their quick thinking and for being so calm.

'The reaction of the children was more of 'wow that happened when we were there' rather than being spooked.

'Our staff were, however, a bit shaken when they went to leave the building and they could see where the children had eaten their packed lunches only an hour before was now covered in debris.'

Denver Mill one of the country's last working windmills and has towered over the Fens, south of Downham Market, since 1835.

The windmill was given to the county in 1969 and sold to the NHBT by Norfolk County Council before the Abels took over the mill complex in 2008 to promote and preserve traditional country life.

In June 2009, the iconic landmark had two 'rotten and dangerous' sails removed and was given a new lease of life when two new sails were installed last April. It is believed the faulty sail was not one of the new sails.

But Mrs Abel continued: 'We can't get a crane out here until next Thursday to sort this so my son, who is a millwright, is coming over to make the site safe and will probably strap two sails together for the time being.'

The Health and Safety Eexcutive has told the EDP it is considering whether or not to investigate this incident.