Leisure centre staff have been accused of child protection “gone mad” after throwing a Preston granny out of a swimming pool because schoolchildren were using it.
Elizabeth Rampling, 61, claimed she was made to feel like a “pervert” by a poolside attendant for sitting in the viewing area at West View in Ribbleton while her husband took his regular morning dip.
“I was shocked, I wasn’t doing anyone any harm,” she said. “It was very upsetting. It gave the impression I was a pervert.”
Husband Alan, 69, one of around a dozen adults who ere also in the pool during the mixed public swim and school swim session, said: “It was unbelievable and so heavy-handed.
“I just don’t understand the logic. Obviously children have to be protected in all circumstances. But this has just gone mad.
“I was allowed to be two feet away from the children in the pool, but my wife wasn’t allowed to sit up in the public gallery reading a newspaper.”
I was allowed to be two feet away from the children in the pool, but my wife wasn’t allowed to sit up in the public gallery reading a newspaper.
The incident comes just five months after West View was taken over by London-based charity Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL).
The company has apologised to the couple, but insists the rule is part of the centre’s safeguarding policy - something, says Preston Council, that was in force before GLL bought both West View and Fulwood leisure centres in May.
Alan, who worked for the council’s parks department for 50 years, said at home in Lytham Road, Ashton-on-Ribble: “It just beggars belief.
“She was sat there for 10 minutes or so reading a newspaper when someone came over and said ‘are you a school teacher?’ She said ‘no’ and they said ‘you’ll have to leave while schools are swimming.’
“She didn’t have a camera, or anything like that. Doesn’t it tar everybody with being a pervert?
“I feel very, very embarrassed and very, very annoyed.
“If she’d said she was my carer she could have stayed.
“The rule seems to be suggesting that everyone is suspicious. Well we aren’t. We’re parents and grandparents and we are no danger to anyone.”
The couple have been regulars at West View for the past 20 years. They regularly have a morning swim, but on this particular day Elizabeth had a slight cold and so decided to sit in the viewing gallery while Alan had his exercise session as normal.
Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) has said ‘sorry’ to Elizabeth for the incident.
But the not-for-profit group, which manages almost 260 facilities including its Better brand venues like West View and Fulwood lesire centres, is adamant the policy remains in place.
A spokesman explained: “A visitor was asked to vacate the pool viewing gallery at West View Leisure Centre prior to a school swim session due to take place in the main pool.
“This request was made in line with the centre’s safeguarding policy, which involves closing the viewing gallery to the public during school sessions.
“We wish to make clear that this did not suggest any inappropriate behaviour on the part of the visitor in question – or any other persons present.
“We apologise for any upset this may have caused. Should any customer have any queries regarding our policy, centre management are more than happy to offer further clarification.”
PROTECTION GONE MAD?
The Ramplings’ story is the latest in a long line of incidents which critics say are down to over-zealous policing of Britain’s child safeguarding rules.
Parents banned from nativity plays, sports days and even prevented from watching their children in the school playground have all hit the headlines in recent years, blamed on the “nanny state.”
So too activities which are seen to be either politically incorrect or a risk under Health and Safety regulations - like children at a school in Macclesfield being ordered to wear protective goggles while playing conkers.
Kite-flying has also been outlawed in a Wiltshire village after advice from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) worried that the strings could become tangled in overhead telephone cables and children could be hurt climbing telegraph poles to free them.
One school in Bedfordshire banned parents from attending the annual sports day in case they happened to be paedophiles.
One official from the county’s schools sports partnership was quoted as saying: “All unsupervised adults must be kept away from children. An unsavoury character could have come in, and we just can’t put the children at risk like that.”
Other stories to find their way into the “would you believe it” columns of newspapers include three-legged races being banned by schools as too dangerous, PE lessons being cancelled because the grass was wet and one school in Cornwall ordering children not to run in the playground in case they crashed into each other.
SMART PHONE USERS BEWARE
Photographing children during events and sports activities is so tempting for proud parents who want to record the moment for posterity.
But the laws governing images of youngsters make the practice a minefield for schools, sports clubs and the media.
Child protection and safeguarding has meant strict rules now have to be adhered to at all public events to avoid the potential misuse of images, particularly via the internet.
Schools must now have a photography policy covering all events involving their children. Invariably that means seeking parental permission on a consent form for a child’s image to be used in any way.
Parents attending school or sports group events who want to take their own photographs must fill in a camera registration form and be issued with an armband or sticker.
The Child Protection in Sport Unit recommends that you “avoid full-face and body shots” and that children in swimming costumes should only be shown from the shoulder or waist up.
Some schools ban photography altogether, citing the Data Protection Act 1998 or the Children Act of 2004.
Critics say parents are the ones who suffer from the change in attitude to child images. One said: “You miss out on the milestones in your child’s life. It’s a shame because they are small for such a short time.”