Dad of drowned teenager backs Sunderland and Washington MP’s water safety campaign

Michael Purvis with his daughter Georgia and son Michael.
Michael Purvis with his daughter Georgia and son Michael.
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THE dad of a tragic teenager is backing a campaign which could save the lives of others.

Tonibeth Purvis, 15, died a hero last year when she went into the River Wear in a bid to save her friend Chloe Fowler, 14, who had got into difficulties.

Despite a major emergency rescue operation, neither of the girls survived.

Now, Tonibeth’s father, Michael Purvis, says he is fully behind MP Sharon Hodgson’s call for water survival skills to become part of the national curriculum.

The Washington taxi driver said: “This would be a fantastic thing if it could save the lives of other children.

“Now the weather is getting hot again, young people will be going to the river, which is a huge worry.

“I think my other two children have learned the hard way to stay out of the river, and hopefully others as well, but kids will be kids.”

Michael, 41, from Barmston, who is also dad to Michael, 13, and eight-year-old Georgia, said he will never get over losing his daughter.

He said: “It is particularly hard at the minute seeing all the kids getting excited for their proms.Tonibeth would have been leaving school now.”

The tragic drownings of Tonibeth and Chloe were highlighted in a debate in Parliament earlier this week when Mrs Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, called on ministers to learn from their deaths.

She said teaching children to swim 25 metres in a warm, clear swimming pool with a lifeguard, is a far cry from a child finding themselves in a cold lake, river or sea with strong currents and hidden hazards.

Mrs Hodgson said she agreed with the RLSS, Royal Life Saving Society, that every child is taught the basic principles of water safety education and schools should have a clear understanding of what is expected from them and be accountable for it.

Figures from the National Water Safety Forum show that 89 children and young people died in water over 2011 and 2012, the majority of them teenagers.

The debate comes ahead of National Drowning Prevention Week, June 21-29, which for the first time is targeting secondary schools as well as primary schools.

Speaking after the debate, Mrs Hodgson said: “Every single one of these deaths represents an individual tragedy, and a huge hole in the lives of families like Tonibeth’s and Chloe’s.

“Anything we can do to prevent more deaths is worthwhile doing, and our schools are undoubtedly best placed to lead on this.”