Life-saving chief appeals for free swimming lessons for youngsters in Norfolk
A senior official at a charity which saves lives at sea has called for free swimming lessons for schoolchildren after the latest tragedy off the East Anglian coast left a man dead.
Richard Leeds, lifeboat operations manager at Cromer RNLI, spoke out following the opening of an inquest into the death of 52-year-old Polish national Leszek Puchala, who was swimming off the beach at Sea Palling when he got into difficulty.
He believes more education on the dangers of the sea is needed to keep visitors safe.
Mr Leeds, who is also a member of Cromer Town Council, said: 'Safety is paramount on the beach and we have a long stretch of coastline in north Norfolk so we need our local children to be able to have that facility.
'I know the high school (Cromer Academy) are thinking about building a new swimming pool but that is probably an added factor.
'With Sheringham having a swimming pool, Cromer has said we should have one as well but the population probably doesn't warrant that on a cost basis.'
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Nevertheless, he added: 'The local children should at least be able to swim.'
Norfolk County Council stated that providing swimming lessons for pupils was the responsibility of individual schools.
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But a leader at a north Norfolk swimming club claimed a lack of resources meant not enough is being done.
Kathryn Curtis, treasurer of North Norfolk Vikings, said: 'There is a government expectation that all children leaving primary school can swim 25m; however that isn't happening. In any case, is 25 metres enough to save their lives if they fall into the sea? It probably isn't.
'And then lots of high schools don't continue with the swimming, so once they leave primary that is the end of many children being taught to swim.'
North Norfolk District Council revealed it has never provided free swimming lessons to school pupils but agreed action was needed.
Tom FitzPatrick, the local authority's leader and a county councillor, said: 'Swimming is a vital life skill and it is important for children everywhere to learn how to swim.'
The council pointed out it subsidises two public swimming pools in Sheringham and North Walsham.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb added: 'Every child should be taught to swim while at school. This should be an essential part of the curriculum – particularly in a county like Norfolk with our wonderful coast.'