Widows’ anger over safety delays on river where husbands died in kayak tragedy

DANGER SPOT ... the weir at the Tyne on Riding Mill.
DANGER SPOT ... the weir at the Tyne on Riding Mill.

VITAL safety measures are finally set to be put in place on a “dangerous” stretch of river which claimed the lives of three fathers – a year on from the tragedy.

Louise Thorpe, Louise Bradley and Kerry Thorpe lost their husbands during a kayak trip on the River Tyne on May 11 last year.

FRUSTRATED ... Kerry Thorpe and her late husband Mark.

FRUSTRATED ... Kerry Thorpe and her late husband Mark.

They say they will continue to fight for warning signs and safety improvements by Northumbrian Water – to ensure no one else has to endure the pain that they as a family have suffered over the last 12 months.

The women called for the river above the pumping station and weir at Riding Mill to be made safer – with more warning signs and a designated landing site to allow kayakers and canoeists to bypass it in difficult river conditions.

North Tyneside coroner Eric Armstrong wrote to Northumbrian Water asking for plans to improve safety following an inquest into their deaths in September.

Northumbrian Water says that warning signs will be in place by the end of the month, with further safety measures to be put in place in the summer.

We owe it to our men to continue to fight and put pressure on Northumbrian Water to make the changes called for following the inquest.

Louise Thorpe, widow

Mr Armstrong recorded a verdict of accidental death on Mark Thorpe, 39, of Froude Avenue, South Shields, his brother Darren, 41, of Madeira Terrace, South Shields, and their cousin Gavin Bradley, 36, of Lulworth Avenue, Jarrow.

The deaths of Mark, Darren and Gavin came three years after kayaker Andrew Weatherill, 33, drowned on the same part of the river in February 2011.

The inquest into their deaths was told that the water level was higher than usual, and one likely scenario was that the men were swept over the weir before they knew it.

Warning signs told people to leave the water upstream of a 200ft-wide weir at Riding Mill, but the men’s bodies were found downriver.

LET DOWN ... Louise Bradley with husband Gavin and their daughters Molly and Gracie.

LET DOWN ... Louise Bradley with husband Gavin and their daughters Molly and Gracie.

Louise Thorpe said: “We feel frustrated. You want to make people aware that this is a dangerous stretch of water. Why haven’t the signs been put up as soon as possible?

“We owe it to our men to continue to fight and put pressure on Northumbrian Water to make the changes called for following the inquest.

Louise Bradley said: “We just feel let down. It will happen again. It is just a matter of time, if safety measures aren’t in place. Something needs to be done to make people aware.

“There have been four deaths in four years. Something should have been done after Andrew Weatherill died. We shouldn’t be in this position.”

FRUSTRATED ... Darren and Louise Thorpe with son Anthony (left) and his stepchildren Daryn and Caroline.

FRUSTRATED ... Darren and Louise Thorpe with son Anthony (left) and his stepchildren Daryn and Caroline.

Kerry Thorpe added: “People need to be made aware it is not just the right side of the river – where the pumping station is – that is dangerous.

“We won’t lie down and roll over until something is done. This shouldn’t have happened to us, and it shouldn’t happen to anyone else.”

A spokesman for Northumbrian Water admitted the safety work was taking “longer than hoped” to implement.

Production manager Noel Cooper said: “We have been working closely with the British Canoe Union to make sure that the safety warnings and measures that are put in place are the most effective they can be.

“Warning signs are to be erected at the car parks on either side of the River Tyne at Corbridge, where canoe users regularly enter the river. We hope to have these signs up by the end of May.

“We are also going to install some concrete steps 50 metres upstream of the weir on the north riverbank, to provide access to and from the river for canoeists, and a highly visible rescue throw line will be mounted in the immediate vicinity of these steps.

“This work will be done by the summer and, at the same time, highly visible signage will also be located at Riding Mill pumping station advising of the location of the steps.

“We do appreciate that this work is taking longer than hoped. We also now have agreement from the relevant agencies and landowners for this work to go ahead.”

Twitter @shieldsgazchris