River search and rescue teams to protect Christmas revellers in Shrewsbury
There will extra police on the beat in Telford and search and rescue volunteers in Shrewsbury to help protect the public during the festive season.
A major operation to ensure Christmas revellers in Shrewsbury don’t end up in danger near the River Severn was launching tonight.
Search and rescue volunteers were set to patrol the riverside in Shrewsbury for the first time tonight in a campaign to cut down on fatalities.
The news comes after a number of people died on separate occasions after entering the river in the town in recent years.
West Mercia Search and Rescue’s water-rescue specialists will be working in small teams near the river to provide some safety cover for tipsy Christmas revellers and steer them away from the water’s edge.
A report published by Portsmouth University highlights the dangers of winter and the combination of drinking near water. Each year about 20 men are found dead after going missing on a night out, 89 per cent of those are found in water, with town centres seeing the highest incidence of deaths.
West Mercia Search and Rescue has been running its “If your mate’s on the beer, keep them well clear” campaign on social media for the last year, and it has been seen by more than 70,000 people on Facebook alone.
The charity’s chairman, Andy MacAuley, said: “We are all too familiar with searching for young men who have entered the river and succumbed to the immediate cold.
“Nationally it’s a problem, but we see it highlighted in busy town centres like Shrewsbury where the night life is great and the river so close.”
Mr MacAuley added: “We feel it’s important as a rescue team to try and prevent harm as well as dealing with its aftermath, so it’s a natural progression for us to work with West Mercia Police and use our expertise on the riverside to try and stop further tragedy over the Christmas period.”
A Respect the Water and Don’t Drink and Drown campaign is also being promoted by the Royal National Lifeboat Institute and the Royal Lifesaving Society.
Hundreds of warning messages have been put on posters, glasses, bar mats and towels in pubs and clubs in Shrewsbury to raise awareness about the danger.
Pub managers, who are part of the Pub Watch scheme joined Team Shrewsbury, made up of fire crews, police, councils and other agencies to improve river safety. They have bought four rescue boxes containing eight life jackets and throw lines which are due to be sited in the main river loop in the town centre.
About 40 door staff who work at pubs and clubs near to the River Severn have also been trained in water rescue and safety in recent weeks.
The search and rescue volunteers will be deployed in the Welsh Bridge area initially, between 8pm and 1am tonight, on December 22, 23, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
They will be working in close contact with West Mercia Police, Shropshire Fire and Rescue, Shrewsbury Street Pastors and the town’s CCTV system to help vulnerable individuals.
The charity hopes to use this pilot scheme as a model for extending its patrols to other riverside towns in the region next year.
Extra police on the beat in Telford
Extra police officers will be on the streets of Telford across the region in the build-up to Christmas in a major crackdown on festive crime.
West Mercia Police said it has launched its Operation Christmas Presence, an annual initiative which sees more officers on duty to cover the some of the busiest nights on the calendar in town centres.
The force says 37 per cent of all violent crime in the Warwickshire and West Mercia policing areas during 2016 to 2017 is alcohol related and with extra people out celebrating in the run-up to Christmas Day, officers are issuing a warning to anyone intent on causing trouble that they will not be welcome over the festive period.
Superintendent Paul Moxley said: “From previous experience, we know which nights are likely to be the busiest over the festive period and we will have extra officers on duty to help keep people safe.
“This is not just officers on the streets; we will also have extra officers in the custody block and in CID.
“Most people can go out, have a few drinks and enjoy themselves without causing any trouble.
“It is the minority who cause trouble and our message to these people is ‘we are looking out for you and we will take action’.”
He added: “Being drunk is no defence for becoming involved in violent crime or disorder.
“When it comes to drinking alcohol, people need take responsibility for their actions and know their limits.
“Don’t get a criminal record and ruin your future prospects through something you do while you’re drunk.”
Officers have also been targeting drink drivers through the annual Christmas and New Year campaign.
So far, 84 people have been arrested across the West Mercia Police force area during the campaign.
Chief Constable Martin Evans said: “There are still people out there who feel they can gamble with drinking and driving and know the limit.”