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by Tom Marshall
Thursday, January 30, 2014
A review into the safety of Hampstead Heath’s ponds following the death of Sussie Ahlburg has recommended that bathers undergo health checks before taking to the water.
The report by the City of London Corporation’s property health and safety manager said people should have check-ups to ensure swimming in the ponds “is appropriate to their level of fitness and health”.
It also said they must “accept that there are hazards inherent in swimming in the ponds which are outside the reasonable control of the City”.
These included water-borne pathogens, variable water temperature, poor visibility and the depth of the ponds.
Paul Jeal, the senior swimming facilities manager at Hampstead Heath, said those with medical conditions should be required to inform lifeguards.
“We’re not going to start testing everyone before they get in the water,” he said.
“With the fatality, she [Sussie Ahlburg] had a heart condition and if she had told us prior to going swimming, lifeguards would have paid more attention to her.”
The review was carried out by the City, which manages the Heath, after celebrated photographer Ms Ahlburg drowned in the Kenwood Ladies’ Bathing Pond in August. It emerged at the inquest into her death in December that she had been warned not to swim in open water because of a heart condition.
Mr Jeal said: “The lifeguards were obviously very upset by the death of Sussie Ahlburg, but they’re just doing their job as they always have done.
“The report confirmed that our procedures and protocols are adequate and working well.”
Catherine Cinnamon, of the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association, said swimmers were happy with how the ponds are managed.
She said: “As far as we are concerned, everything is absolutely in order. People have to take responsibility for their own health if they are doing this sort of activity.”
An external review was also carried out, by an independent risk management consultant, which concluded that the City is meeting its duty of care.
The consultant put forward a few suggestions, including signs informing people to tell lifeguards when they are going swimming.
However, the Corporation has refused to disclose the full text of the reports despite repeated requests from the Ham&High, releasing only summaries.
The Corporation claimed the information cannot be released as Hampstead Heath is run as a charity – exploiting a loophole in the Freedom of Information Act, which only applies to public bodies.