Mystery death of Graham Cook, popular pilot of Potter Heigham bridge in Norfolk

Tributes have been paid to a popular bridge pilot who was found dead in shallow water in a dyke next to the River Thurne at Potter Heigham.

Graham Cook, 38, had worked for Phoenix Fleet since leaving school at 16 and was a popular, helpful figure to the thousands of boating holidaymakers on the Broads whose cruisers he guided through the narrow, medieval bridge.

Foul play has been ruled out, but mystery still surrounds how he ended up in the dyke close to his motor cruiser where he lived most of the time. Police have submitted their report to the coroner ahead of an inquest.

A member of staff at Phoenix Fleet, which runs the pilot business, found Mr Cook's body when he was opening up on Friday morning.

Yesterday, the flag at the bridge-side business was flying at halfmast as a mark of respect.

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Robin Richardson, who runs the company with his brother, Patrick, described Mr Cook as 'the most polite, loyal member of staff you could wish to have'.

He said: 'His whole life was this business and he was brilliant with holidaymakers. I would think one third of visitors came and asked for Graham by name rather than for the bridge pilot.'

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Over the weekend he and his brother had taken endless phone calls from people wishing to pay their condolences.

He said: 'When I got here on Friday there was a note through the door from one of the Broads Authority rangers saying Graham was one of the good river people, and it was always a pleasure to work with him.'

After joining Phoenix Fleet Mr Cook, whose parents and brother live in nearby Rollesby, had been a constant 'happy, smiling face'.

While working mainly as a bridge pilot during the summer season, he concentrated on painting boats in the winter.

The firm builds boats, looks after private yachts and runs its own day boat fleet as well as providing the pilot service.

Broads Authority staff who knew Mr Cook were shocked and saddened by his death.

The rangers who had worked with him for many years were full of praise for a 'true professional' who was always cheerful, helpful and good at his job.

Robin Allard, who was a Broads Beat police officer before becoming a Broads Authority ranger and had known him for 15 years said: 'He was expert at what he did.

'I knew Graham very well and he was always helpful and ready to offer advice and information on river matters.

'As a bridge pilot he would need to board numerous hire and private vessels at short notice and to helm them through the narrow medieval bridge which he did with considerable skill and expertise. He was a smiling face on the bankside.'

Ranger Jamie Hanger, who knew him for 20 years, said: 'Graham was always helpful, cheerful, courteous, polite and a good contact for the Potter Heigham ranger service.'

Carol Anderson, former landlady at the Broads Haven Tavern, in Potter Heigham, described Mr Cook as 'like a second son'.

She said: 'He was such a loveable person. I could not believe it when I was told on Friday.'

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