Woman falls into River Stort in Sawbridgeworth after slipping on 'treacherous' towpath
An elderly woman fell into the River Stort after slipping on a stretch of towpath in Sawbridgeworth which had been highlighted as being “extremely dangerous” and “treacherous”.
The woman, believed to be in her late 70s, was walking along the path between Station Road and Sheering Mill Lock with a friend when the incident happened on Monday at about 2.30pm.
She was heard crying out for help. Sam Cordini and Dan Lawrence, managers at the Royal Mail delivery office in The Maltings opposite, ran round to pull her out of the water.
David Bassett, a director at Home Instead Senior Care based at Allen House Business Centre across the river from the incident, also went to help the woman.
“I was in my office and I could hear this lady shouting ‘Help!’,” he said. “Two post office guys were running round to the other side of the bank.”
David said that he had seen several incidents on that stretch of the towpath from his office vantage point, including a woman with a buggy and two cyclists who had plunged into the water.
“One boy went flying straight in and his friend had to help him out,” said David.
Sawbridgeworth Town Council has raised the issue of the path’s poor condition. Mayor Cllr Annelise Furnace has been in regular contact with the Canal & River Trust, which maintains the towpath.
Town projects manager Joanne Sargant said that the path has been neglected and lacked regular maintenance.
In an email to the Canal & River Trust last Thursday (Nov 12), Joanne told the organisation it had been reported that at least two cyclists and two pedestrians had fallen into the water in the last week.
She added: “Our town ranger has visited the site this morning and has reported that it is extremely dangerous and treacherous – risk of fall is very high.”
Cllr Furnace told the Indie that in March she had asked the Canal & River Trust about its plans for regular maintenance of the towpath.
“I had recently walked from Sheering Mill Lock to Harlow Mill along the towpath and was quite shocked at its poor state of repair,” she said. “In several places the path now undulates, making walking difficult and cycling very difficult. The path also falls away into the river at several points, again making accessibility an issue.”
She added she was, with Cllr David Royle, compiling a list of hotspots in need of repair and maintenance to pass to the trust.
“I am concerned that no ongoing maintenance and repairs appear to be taking place on the Sawbridgeworth stretch of the towpath and look forward to learning what plans the trust has to address this,” said Cllr Furnace.
The trust had said it would update the council in a week’s time. Cllr Furnace added: “I understand from the trust that there is discussion with their area manager for the Stort regarding any scope for carrying out short-term remedial works so that the towpath is accessible to people walking and cycling.”
David Bassett agreed subsidence was the issue, adding: “I’m concerned people are going to get caught out and we're going to have a fatality.”
A spokeswoman for the Canal & River Trust said on Tuesday: "The Canal & River Trust are very alarmed to hear about the sad incident yesterday when a woman slipped and fell into the River Stort, and we wish her a speedy recovery.
"The part of the towpath where the incident happened is well used and can become very muddy at this time of year. The trust regularly makes repairs to towpaths where we can, and if a bigger job is required, like on this stretch of towpath, we will work in partnership with local councils in order to make the towpaths safer for everyone."
She added: "More people are now using this path because of the lockdown, so it is now becoming more damaged. As the trust are a charity, our funds are limited, but if there is willingness and funding available to do a towpath upgrade in this location, we would be very pleased to pursue this."