Operation Nemo: Lancashire Police appeals for volunteers to prevent missing children cases on Blackpool and St Annes beaches

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Can you help find missing children on the beach?

 

That’s the question being asked of a new army of volunteers after a spike in youngsters vanishing on the sand.

The problem is leaving beach patrollers and Coastguard rescuers swamped ahead of the busy summer – when ‘staycationers’ will descend on the Fylde coast en masse.

With every police officer on duty in Blackpool tasked with hunting for 25 children over the course of two weekends at the end of May and start of June, Sgt Tom Sanderson realised the situation was untenable.

During busy weekends, Blackpool Police and Lytham Coastguard said they hoped volunteers would help to alleviate the pressure on their teams when children are reported missing on Blackpool and St Annes beaches. Pic: Daniel Martino/JPI MediaDuring busy weekends, Blackpool Police and Lytham Coastguard said they hoped volunteers would help to alleviate the pressure on their teams when children are reported missing on Blackpool and St Annes beaches. Pic: Daniel Martino/JPI Media

He said: “As we approach the summer holidays we’re expecting a lot more families at the beach, especially with international travel restrictions.

“But it’s such an operational demand, which is why we’re asking for volunteers to help out.

“During the last bank holiday weekend, we spent 90 officer hours on lost children.

“When a missing child report comes in, every officer on duty is dispatched, which means we aren’t going to domestic incidents, we aren’t out looking for people breaking into cars, we can’t patrol.

Paul Little, station officer at Lytham and Blackpool coastguard, said volunteers would enable his team to focus on life-endangering incidents.Paul Little, station officer at Lytham and Blackpool coastguard, said volunteers would enable his team to focus on life-endangering incidents.

“The majority of the time a child is found within 30 minutes of being reported missing, and usually by their families, so we’re sending police looking round for them and we don’t need to be.

“This is why we’ve got the Coastguard and beach patrol involved, and now obviously we’re looking for our own volunteers as well.”

Operation Nemo will see helpers, including police cadets, man the Prom between Blackpool’s North and South piers, as well as St Annes pier.

They will hand out wristbands to be worn by children and contain their parents’ details, tell visitors about tide times and beach safety, and set up a meeting point where lost children can be reunited with their families.

While Sgt Sanderson said the youngsters are usually tourists, he said nobody was to blame.

He added: “At the end of the day our main job is to safeguard children.

“This is our role. If you looked down a list of things police should be doing, that would absolutely be at the top.

“It’s very rare that a child who lives in the area would go missing from the beach, mostly because residents know the area.

“They know about the tides and when it’s really busy most of them actually tend to avoid the beach.

“This isn’t about wagging fingers or placing the blame on anyone because it’s so easily done.

“Even the most conscientious, caring people can be distracted for a split second.

“And in that time a child could have seen a donkey and wandered off to go and have a look.

“We can’t blame parents and this operation is happening more as a preventative measure.

“The average age of these kids is between around three and 10. After that age we don’t get a lot of reports because parents tend to worry less about older children. They give them a bit more freedom.

“For one case of a missing child we could be sending up to ten patrols. That’s 20 officers.

“Granted it won’t break them off for emergency calls but in terms of proactive patrolling or dealing with investigations, it really affects that.

“So the reason we want volunteers to offer around eight hours of their time one day a weekend is to help our officers get back to doing that.”

Coastguard rescuers working Blackpool, Lytham, and Fleetwood have been drafted in, and Paul Little, station officer at Blackpool and Lytham, said the volunteers would ease the pressure on his team.

He said: “We’re hoping that the operation is going to help us, particularly during the summer months when the beaches get really busy.

“We get numerous reports of missing children, usually between 30 to 40 children a year. It can often be worse in St Annes than in Blackpool because the beach is so much bigger.

“It can take us much longer to get to the water’s edge to search for a lost child, whereas in Blackpool you can usually see out to the water.

“There are three beaches in Blackpool and then up to St Annes so if we can minimise these sorts of call-outs then it will be easier for us.

“We can get back to more of the life-endangering incidents.

“It’s a danger for us as well. We can only be in one place at a time and when we’re travelling between A and B we can only go at national speed limits.

“Our primary concern is to make sure nobody is in the water which can be time consuming for us because quite often a missing child can cover a fair bit of distance.

“I think being able to go out there and build a dialogue with people about becoming a bit more wary of beach conditions and let them know what to do if their child goes missing will help.”

A spokesman for Blackpool Council, which will also be involved with Operation Nemo, said: “We are directly involved and fully supportive of Project Nemo. Our Beach Patrol team alongside other frontline operational staff such as our CCTV operators are working closely with the police and volunteer organisations to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults along the Promenade and beach areas.

“Our teams are actively involved with surveillance, enhancing the visibility of meeting points and offering temporary welfare facilities until individuals can be reunited with their families or carers. Last year our Beach Patrol team working with other colleagues and partners played a key role in successfully reuniting 77 lost children or vulnerable adults who had been found in distress when they had become separated.”

Members of the public who want to volunteer will be subject to police vetting and criminal record check.

‘Selfish, reckless and unsafe’: Blackpool Council investigates Bispham roundabout England flag paint

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Blackpool Council is investigating the extent of the cost and damage of a roundabout in Bispham after a member of the public painted it red to resemble an England flag.

 

A video circulating on social media showed a member of the public painting the roundabout on Kincraig Road, Bispham with red paint and an extendable roller to resemble the St George’s flag.

The move came as England faced Italy in last night’s Euro 2020 final, but following the home team’s devastating defeat after penalties, the paint still remains.

Blackpool Council slammed the act as “selfish, reckless and unsafe,” and said investigations were underway to determine how much the paint would cost to remove.

Blackpool Council slammed the paint job as "selfish, reckless and unsafe." Pic: Dan Martino/JPI MediaBlackpool Council slammed the paint job as “selfish, reckless and unsafe.” Pic: Dan Martino/JPI Media

A Blackpool Council spokesman said: “We are aware of this incident and are carrying out investigations to determine the scale of the damage and repair costs.

“Many residents will have been both proud and excited to back the England team ahead of Sunday’s final, but damaging the appearance of a public space is a selfish, reckless and unsafe way of showing support, which is why it was so disappointing to learn of the damage to the mini roundabout. The centre of the road is a dangerous place for an unqualified person painting on the floor with no protection or appropriate traffic management provision in place. The person or people who did this posed a huge risk to themselves and others.

“It will take time and money to restore the roundabout to its original condition – these are resources that could be put to better use for the community and local residents.

“We encourage people to report instances of graffiti or damage to our streets via our website at www.blackpool.gov.uk/Graffiti – we investigate all incidents and take action where necessary.”
A mystery member of the public used an extendable roller to paint red stripes onto Kincraig Road's roundabout in a bid to make it resemble the St George's flag. Pic: Dan Martino/JPI Media
A mystery member of the public used an extendable roller to paint red stripes onto Kincraig Road’s roundabout in a bid to make it resemble the St George’s flag. Pic: Dan Martino/JPI Media
A mystery member of the public used an extendable roller to paint red stripes onto Kincraig Road's roundabout in a bid to make it resemble the St George's flag. Pic: Dan Martino/JPI Media
A mystery member of the public used an extendable roller to paint red stripes onto Kincraig Road’s roundabout in a bid to make it resemble the St George’s flag. Pic: Dan Martino/JPI Media