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TRAGIC LOSS

My daughter drowned in lake after saving little sister – I’m sharing vital warning so other parents don’t suffer like me

WITH the weather heating up again, Brits will be tempted to cool off in lakes, rivers and the sea.

But one devastated mum is warning them to think twice about taking that risk, after her 12-year-old daughter drowned during a hot spell last summer.

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Mum Amanda with daughter Tegan, who was saved from drowning by her older sisterCredit: Matt Barbour.
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Niki got into difficulty after pushing her little sister to safetyCredit: Matt Barbour.

Amanda Holmes agreed to let Niki go to Ducklington Lake near their home in Witney, Oxfordshire in July last year.

Niki was with her younger sister Tegan, among other friends and a group of grown-ups, so Amanda thought she would be safe.

The lake is popular with locals as a swimming spot, even though it's a former quarry which is not suitable for bathing.

But in warm, humid temperatures the temptation of the cooling waters can prove too tempting for people to resist.

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The only sign warning not to go in the water was covered with greenery, and there was no lifebuoy.

Mum-of-six Amanda, 40, told Niki to stay in the shallow area because she was not a strong swimmer.

When Tegan got into trouble, brave Niki rescued her, ensuring she got to safety.

But Niki wasn't strong enough to stay afloat, and silently sank beneath the water.

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Brave Niki with TeganCredit: Matt Barbour.

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By the time people on-shore realised she was missing and launched a rescue operation, it was too late.

Now Amanda is joining a campaign backed by Olympians Sharron Davies and Stephanie Millward to get more children able to swim the recommended 25 metres by the time they leave primary school. Niki had only completed 10 metres.

Basic skill

Amanda believes her beloved daughter would still be alive if she had been given proper swimming lessons at school.

She tells The Sun: “I knew Niki wasn’t a very confident swimmer – she’d only got her 10m certificate at primary school – but they assured me they’d stay in the shallow bit.

"I knew it was a busy spot so there’d be lots of people there to keep an eye on things.”

Later that afternoon Amanda got a call saying Niki had gone under the water and they couldn’t find her.

I remember screaming to them to put the phone down and find her... but she didn't stand a chance

Amanda Holmes

“I remember screaming to them to put the phone down and find her,” she said.

After a desperate search, the emergency services were called and arrived 20 minutes later. They pulled Niki out with a grab pole, but were unable to revive her.

“Niki had been under the water for over half an hour and was so full of water, she didn’t stand a chance,” Amanda says.

“She was taken to hospital, but the coroner’s verdict was she’d died at the lake.”

Tragic accident

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Amanda with her family before the tragedyCredit: Matt Barbour.
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Niki with Tegan. Her death was deemed a 'very tragic accident'Credit: Matt Barbour.

At the inquest into her death in March, the coroner described it as a ‘very tragic accident’.

Amanda adds: “Of course, in the absolute panic and terror that day nobody really knew what had happened, but the police assured later me it was just a freak accident.

"The lake’s a disused quarry, and the ground dropped away suddenly beneath her. 

What nobody tells you about drowning is that all too often the person doesn’t scream and wave their arms, they just silently sink and disappear

Amanda Holmes

“I was told Tegan also got into difficulties, and Niki pushed her to safety before disappearing.”

The family are not alone in suffering such a terrible loss.

Drowning figures in the UK rose by 10 per cent from 456 to 616 last year.

Amanda says: “What nobody tells you about drowning is that all too often the person doesn’t scream and wave their arms, they just silently sink and disappear.”

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Niki had only achieved her 10m badge at swimmingCredit: Matt Barbour.

Safety campaign

Amanda never learned to swim at school and believes it is essential that other children have that opportunity.

With the number of pools in the UK expected to drop by 40 per cent over the next eight years, those chances are becoming slimmer. 

The percentage of little ones leaving primary school able to swim 25 metres is predicted to go down from three quarters at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, to less than half by 2025.

Amanda says: “Niki was so happy, so full of life. She had everything ahead of her. 

“I want to tell her story to save lives – and warn parents to make sure their child can swim and is aware of the dangers, because my beautiful girl’s gone forever.”

I want to tell her story to save lives – and warn parents to make sure their child can swim and is aware of the dangers, because my beautiful girl’s gone forever

Amanda Holmes

Sharron Davies, awarded an MBE in 1993 after winning Olympic silver and six Commonwealth Games medals, has become an ambassador for 'Doing It For Dylan', which campaigns for increased water safety.

It was founded by mum Beckie Ramsay, whose 13-year-old son Dylan died when he went into shock due to cold temperatures while swimming in a water-filled quarry with friends in 2011.

Since then Beckie, from Chorley in Lancashire, has been tirelessly campaigning for greater awareness around water safety and particularly open water swimming.

Last year Beckie, 45, set up a petition to make water safety a compulsory part of the PSHE curriculum for every British child, which exceeded the required 100,000 signatures and earned her the accolade of Campaign Petition Winner of the Year 2022.

However, while she is regularly attending meetings with the Department of Education, along with key figures at RoSPA, the National Water Safety Forum and Swim England, she says no action has been taken yet.

She says: "If a school chooses not to prioritise swimming, and only a fraction of its pupils leave being water safe and competent swimmers, there are no repercussions other than on those children who are let down."

Sharron adds: “Youngsters think they’re invincible, and even as an Olympian I know it’s imperative to respect the water. 

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“Being aware of first response in a moment of panic and what can be done to rescue someone, without putting yourself in jeopardy, can be a real-life saver.

“Lockdowns were great for getting us outdoors wild swimming, but drowning figures also went up. Good information can change that.”

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Beckie with Sharron Davies and Stephanie MillwardCredit: Supplied
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