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Ban fishing at Heath ponds, says swimmer injured by hook

Heath lover who needed hospital treatment says injury has spoiled his ‘sanctuary’

06 July, 2017 — By Tom Foot

Nicholas Breakspeare’s injured hand

A SWIMMER has called for fishing to be banned from Heath ponds after he was caught by a loose hook.

Nicholas Breakspeare was doing the breaststroke around the men’s pond on the Highgate side of Hampstead Heath last Wednesday when he felt a “sharp pain” in his left hand. The 40-year-old said the hook had later to be “surgically removed” with “several instruments” at the Royal Free Hospital, in Hampstead.

“A barbed fishing hook had penetrated and gone through the inside of my palm,” said Mr Breakspeare. “I swam with my hand in the air and alerted the lifeguard who was observing the pond.”

He added: “He also told me the barbed hook caught in my hand was in contravention of Hampstead Heath’s angling regulations.” Mr Breakspeare, who lives in west London, walked to the Royal Free, where he spent two hours and was given a tetanus jab.

Nicholas Breakspeare

The fishing season has only just begun again after the springtime break.

Mr Breakspeare has asked the City of London, which runs the Heath, to impose a temporary ban on fishing in the three Heath ponds used by swimmers until a health and safety assessment is carried out. He called for a search of the ponds for all loose fishing tackle and a “formal apology and an appropriate offer of redress”.

Mr Breakspeare, who worked in PR until a serious health condition forced him to give up his job, said he loved to go to the Heath, which was a “unique natural resource in London that allows me to feel I’ve escaped the city”.

He added: “The opportunity to swim in open water motivates me to connect with nature and look after myself by exercising in an exquisite environment. There is no comparison in my mind to swimming in the pond versus my local gym pool.” He said that, following the incident, he had “lost confidence in the safety of swimming in the pond and I have not returned to the Heath since”.

“Until the City can provide evidence it has taken measures to protect swimmers and make the water safe from fishing equipment it will be difficult for me to see it as the tranquil sanctuary I love to escape to,” he added.

A City of London spokesman said barbed hooks were banned at ponds where swimming takes place. “Our primary concern is for the safety of our visitors and the users of the Hampstead Heath ponds,” he added. “We are reviewing our risk assessments and carrying out additional checks to ensure anglers are not using barbed hooks and have increased checks in swimming areas for discarded fishing lines.”

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