Bawsey Pits to stay closed in heatwave

Bawsey Pits is closed to the public after Tuesday's double tragedy. Picture: Ian Burt

Bawsey Pits is closed to the public after Tuesday's double tragedy. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

Bawsey Pits will be shut for as long as the current summer heatwave lasts in the wake of this week's shock double drowning in the lakes.

At a meeting held to discuss the future of the former quarry following the tragedy in which a 16-year-old and 41-year-old died, Norfolk Police, local councillors and site owners Sibelco agreed that the area should remain closed to the public while there is temptation for people to cool off in the water.

Meanwhile, the 41-year-old was named locally as Ryan Pettengell, formerly of Wisbech. Police are checking reports that he was trying to help in the rescue operation when he got into difficulties.

King's Lynn and West Norfolk borough councillor Alistair Beales, who was at the Bawsey Pits meeting, said closing the former quarry was an appropriate mark of respect in the circumstances – but said that, longer term, the Pits should remain open.

'My strong preference is that it remains open so the public can enjoy it,' he said.

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'It is tragic what has happened and there are issues about how you manage it going forward but the public enjoy the area and it is a wonderful part of the world.'

He said Sibelco, police and councillors would involve the public in discussions about the Pits' future. However, Sibelco resources director Gary Stringer said that visitors to Bawsey Pits had in the past done as they wanted. If the site was to remain open in the future, he said, it would require the will of the public.

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Although Mr Beales stressed there was no timetable for future talks, a public meeting could be held to discuss access, signage and enforcement issues.

And legislation under which public access was granted at Bawsey might mean people cannot legally be banned from the site.

Mr Beales said Sibelco was clarifying the law but said all sides felt closing the site for the short term was reasonable in the situation.

Mr Beales admitted: 'Bawsey Pits has seen low-level anti-social behaviour issues for a long while. There is no question it does suffer from litter, drug-taking and unauthorised swimming – all sorts of behaviour you'd hope wouldn't happen.'

Items up for discussion include whether there is adequate signage warning people of the dangers.

North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said signage should be better but Mr Beales said: 'In general terms, the signage there seems to be adequate.'

Officials have also revealed that security patrols around the site to enforce the ban on swimming in the lakes in the past were stopped after the guards were threatened.

In the summer of 1995 Hepworth Minerals, which then owned the site, employed security guards to patrol the lakes. But the firm warned that people were ignoring the guards and diving in regardless.

On July 25 that year, Shaun Bartrum fractured his spine after diving from a rocky ledge overlooking the lake.

A spokesman for Sibelco said: 'We've been asked why patrols of the site were taken away in the 1990s. The answer is that they received so many verbal and physical threats from members of the public that they were taken away.'

Richard Coke, the county councillor for the area, said: 'I don't think you should have people patrolling it – otherwise, where do you stop?

'As long as you have informed people of the dangers, it should be sufficient.'

A spokesman for Norfolk Police said the 'pre-planned meeting around previous anti-social behaviour and parking issues in the area' had been 'productive'.

The spokesman added: 'The constabulary will continue to work closely with the owners and the local community to resolve the issues to the satisfaction of everyone involved.'

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