EMERGENCY services and authority leaders are to step up open water safety measures in response to the tragic deaths of two 16-year-old boys in the county in the past fortnight.

On July 19, emergency services were called to the River Weaver after 16-year-old Stevie McClair, from Runcorn, had gone missing while swimming. His body was found the following day.

And last Thursday, a large emergency operation was deployed to the River Dee by the Queen's Park suspension bridge in Chester, after 16-year-old Frank Varey, a talented young boxer from Lancaster, had gone missing while swimming at about 2.30pm. His body was found shortly before 8pm.

Frank Varey, 16, died after going missing while swimming in the River Dee.

Frank Varey, 16, died after going missing while swimming in the River Dee.

Now Cheshire West and Chester Council has confirmed it will be working with Cheshire Police, the Canal and River Trust, Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, as well as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, to raise awareness of open water dangers, particularly among younger people.

A Cheshire West and Chester Council spokesperson said: "Cheshire West and Chester Council takes safety on the borough’s rivers and open water extremely seriously.

"In a direct response to these incidents, the council is joining with colleagues in Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service and Cheshire Police to provide additional youth work in areas close to open water in Ellesmere Port, Chester, Northwich and Winsford.

"The council is also working with its partners and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents to review water safety procedures.

"Our thoughts and sympathies remain with the families and friends of the two young people who have lost their lives.

"We would like to stress that swimming in open water can be extremely dangerous and we would urge everyone to avoid it, however tempting it may be. There are hidden risks because it is difficult to determine how deep the water is and there may be obstructions below the surface that may prevent you from being able to swim or tread water.

"The River Dee is tidal and there are strong under currents which could pose added dangers for anyone who swims in it. Even on the hottest of days, the cold water can bring on cold water shock. If you do see anyone in difficulty in the water, call 999 straight away.

"While the council has no powers to stop people who are swimming in open water, we do have safety measures and warning signs in place.

"In the vicinity of this tragic accident on the River Dee, there are four life ring stations, which are checked regularly. There are also signs stating that it is dangerous to swim in the Dee by the bandstand, with a further two on the Handbridge side of the river.

"The council is one of a number of authorities in the borough that promotes safety on open water and we work alongside Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service and the Canal and River Trust to send out messages to the public about the danger."

Councillor Robert Cernik, Cabinet Member for Children and Families, added: “Cheshire West and Chester Council and its partners are once again deeply saddened that a second young person has lost their life in a terrible accident. Our deepest sympathies are with their parents and family.

“Swimming in rivers, canals, ponds, quarries and lakes can be extremely dangerous even for strong swimmers. Please remind children and young people about the dangers and to resist the temptation to cool off in open and unsupervised water.

“Once again my sympathy, and that of the whole Council, goes to the family and friends of both young people who have died this week.”

Key safety advice has been issued:

  • Canals and rivers are lovely places to visit and it may seem tempting to cool down, but don’t get in the water – there are hidden risks you can’t see.
  • Hidden risks include: you can’t tell the depth of the water; your legs could get caught in reeds which make it very hard to swim or tread water; obstructions in the water you can’t see; cold water shock.
  • If you find yourself in difficulties – float on your back to catch your breath.
  • If you see someone in difficulty – call 999 and ask for the coastguard if you’re by the coast and the fire service if you’re inland.