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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 April, 2005, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Hampstead bathers win court case
Swimmer in pond
The swimmers want to use the pond on winter mornings
Swimmers who use ponds in north London have won their battle for the "right to take risks" by using them in winter.

Hampstead Heath Winter Swimming Club brought a High Court challenge against a ruling by the Corporation of London to ban self-regulated swimming.

The corporation felt it would be liable under health and safety laws if there was an accident.

The pond is now for the exclusive use of experienced club members during the winter and not open to the public.

The judge ruled the corporation's refusal to allow club swimmers to bathe when lifeguards were not present at the pond was based on a misapprehension of the law.

'Individual freedom'

Mr Justice Burnton making his ruling, said the corporation had fallen into legal error and said swimmers should be able to swim at their own risk.

He spoke out in favour of "individual freedom" and against "a grey and dull safety regime" being imposed on everyone.

He said: "The Corporation's grant to the club of permission to swim unsupervised in the mixed pond will not of itself render it liable to prosecution."

Later several swimmers welcomed the ruling as "a victory over the nanny state" which could also help others take risks for fun.

'Nanny state'

Mary Cane, chair of the winter swimming club, said: "This is great news for the club and for public bodies like the corporation.

"This was a test case with wide implications for all open water swimming in England and represents another successful attack by ordinary citizens on the `nanny state' and the government-sponsored cult of `health and safety`."

Ms Cane said the club was proud to have played its part "in re-establishing an important principle of personal freedom in this country, which is taken for granted everywhere else, that responsible adults must be free to decide for themselves whether to pursue recreational activities involving an element of risk."

Lifeguard hours

The bathers of Hampstead Heath, who come from all over London, launched their challenge after the corporation cut back on the hours lifeguards were provided - while refusing to let people swim unsupervised.

There are three ponds - the men's, ladies' and mixed - and the move meant members of the club were prevented from going for swims before work .

At present the three ponds are open only while lifeguards are on duty.

People have been bathing in Hampstead Heath's ponds since the 1860s.


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