It is always a tragedy when someone drowns in a canal.
Unfortunately, in today's culture, it is fashionable to look for something or someone else to blame. It is almost unspeakable to suggest that, in some cases, the person may have brought about their demise through their own unwise actions. In other words, in the namby-pamby world in which we now live, rather than expect people to take responsibility for their own actions there seems to be a notion that everyone should be wrapped in cotton wool and the world made ultra-safe so that, however careless or foolish we might be, we come to no harm.
Last week saw two inquests in Manchester, both of men who had fallen into the Rochdale Canal after an evening's heavy drinking. [Reports here and here.] Immediately the media cries out for steps to be taken. In spite of the coroner declaring that the deaths were accidents, the press mentions responses from police and relatives commenting on the area being dark or slippery.
In both incidents the victims fell into the canal in the vicinity of Lock 84, near Dale Street, around a quarter of a mile from the pubs in which they had been drinking on Canal Street. It is not for me to speculate as to their reasons for leaving the public street and going onto the canal towpath, but it must be fair to say they were not on the way to the bus stop or taxi rank.
British Waterways and Manchester City Council spent £200,000 on stainless steel and glass fencing alongside all three sections of Canal Street following a drowning there a couple of years ago. Many regular canal users now dread the possibility of further obtrusive safety features being introduced in Manchester.
It seems to me that, however many safety precautions are put in place, someone will always find a way to fall into the water. For example, on Canal Street itself I have heard reports of people walking along the top of the original canalside wall, using the new safety fence as a very low handrail. What measures would have been called for if that had led to a fatality?
There seems to be a degree of sanity in Leicester where, very sadly, a student drowned in April after a night out. [Report here.] Even though a Facebook group has called for 15 safety measures to be taken, Leicester City Council and British Waterways have ruled out all except two - to make mooring rings more visible and to make the towpath surface less uneven. The council ruled out putting safety barriers under bridges or railings along the canal near pubs.
I want to make it clear that I have nothing but sympathy for the friends and relatives of those who drown in canals. However, I feel that people must be responsible for their own actions, however unfashionable it might be to say that, and canals are places to be avoided when under the influence of alcohol. Historic canal environments should not be destroyed in order to protect people from themselves.
Better lighting - yes. Less slippery surfaces - yes. More and more safety fencing - no!
Lock 84,Rochdale Canal