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Family of Alton Water ‘tombstoning’ victim Matthew Dunnett back water safety campaign

PUBLISHED: 06:55 24 April 2017 | UPDATED: 15:59 24 April 2017

Zena Williams on the bridge at Alton Water where her brother, Matthew Dunnett, died when he jumped into the water. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Zena Williams on the bridge at Alton Water where her brother, Matthew Dunnett, died when he jumped into the water. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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The sister of a 22-year-old Ipswich man who drowned after ‘tombstoning’ at Alton Water is spearheading a water safety campaign in Suffolk this week to help prevent other tragedies.

Matt Dunnett with his niece, Amy LucasMatt Dunnett with his niece, Amy Lucas

Zena Williams, 36, of Ipswich, has bravely spoken out about losing her brother Matthew Dunnett in June 2015.

“I was with him nearly every day,” she said. “My life is a lot quieter. It’s been hard. Very hard.”

She has joined the Water Safety and Drowning Prevention national campaign, backed by the Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service.

“I hope to save somebody else’s family going through (what we did),” Miss Williams said.

Sarah Dobson from Anglian Water with Zena Williams and Phil Geeson, senior fire officer at Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service, at Alton Water. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNSarah Dobson from Anglian Water with Zena Williams and Phil Geeson, senior fire officer at Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service, at Alton Water. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“It was such a huge loss. He was a huge character in our family.

“I hope the campaign changes statistics and makes people think before doing something like that.”

Mr Dunnett, of Woodhouse Square, died after tombstoning – jumping vertically into water from height – into the reservoir at Alton Water, near Holbrook, to cool off from the summer heat.

He resurfaced, but it quickly became clear he was in difficulty. He shouted and waved to friends but fell back underwater. His body was discovered by emergency services two hours later.

Zena Williams left flowers on the bridge at Alton Water where her brother, Matthew Dunnett, died when he jumped into the water. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNZena Williams left flowers on the bridge at Alton Water where her brother, Matthew Dunnett, died when he jumped into the water. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

He was a good swimmer and there were no reeds or debris in the water, an inquest heard.

Miss Williams said: “It was a really hot day. Some of his friends were already tombstoning off (the bridge). He was a bit of a daredevil. He thought he could do everything. There was a video, and from what I could see, he was struggling to breathe. He came back up, but very briefly. I think it was more to do with the shock of the cold water, because it was so hot. He was a good swimmer. You had fatigue (from lack of sleep night before), hotness, shock of the cold. It took his breath away.”

Unsupervised swimming is not permitted at Alton Water. Owners Anglian Water have long warned about its dangers and put up new warning signs at Lemons Hill Bridge after Mr Dunnett’s death.

Miss Williams added: “I’ve been lucky as I’ve had my daughter (Amy Lucas, 11) to strive on for.

Zena Williams, the sister of Matthew Dunnett, 22, with Phil Geeson, senior fire officer at Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNZena Williams, the sister of Matthew Dunnett, 22, with Phil Geeson, senior fire officer at Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“She has been so brave. Their relationship was very close. I think telling her was the hardest thing I had to do. We actually took her there to tell her, just so she could see that, even though it was a tragedy, it’s a very beautiful place. We’ve got somewhere beautiful to lay flowers. She doesn’t talk about it too much, but she keeps me laughing.”

The Water Safety and Drowning Prevention campaign aims to raise awareness of the dangers of water.

It targets people of all ages, from anglers and dog walkers to runners and cyclists.

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service station commander for prevention, Phil Geeson, warned factors like cold water and fatigue can affect everyone, even strong swimmers.

“It’s about being aware of those impacts of extreme cold water, the ability to function while your limbs are cold and you are unable to catch your breath,” he said. “It has a huge impact on the body.

“Unfortunately, that’s what added to Matthew’s problem in the water. “A young person’s perception of risk is significantly different to ours.

“It’s important lessons are learnt and we are so grateful to Zena for sharing Matthew’s story. Please listen to Zena, and let’s ensure, through preventative measures and information, it doesn’t happen again.”

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