Hartlepool family’s warning after children caught playing with lifebelt

A woman whose dad was instrumental in getting lifebelts put in place around the country is warning of the dangers of people playing with the lifesaving equipment.

Around 40 years ago, Joane Griggs’ dad Jack Hoyle helped to save a boy from drowning off the Heugh pier on the Headland.

Joanne Griggs and dad Jack Hoyle by the lifebelt children removed from the promenade, Marine Drive, Hartlepool. Picture by Frank Reid

Joanne Griggs and dad Jack Hoyle by the lifebelt children removed from the promenade, Marine Drive, Hartlepool. Picture by Frank Reid

A lack of lifebelts on the pier led to a nationwide campaign to make coastlines safer and the installation and replacement of lifebelts across Hartlepool.

But while on the Headland last week, not far from the scene of her dad’s heroics, Joane, 49, was upset to see three children about the same age of Anthony Gibbons, who Jack rescued, playing in the sea with a lifebelt.

After Joane posted details of the schoolchildren playing with the lifebelt on Facebook, it led to a reunion between Jack and Anthony for the first time in almost 40 years.

They met on Sunday night and was the first time they had seen each other since posing for a photo for the media at the time.

A picture of Jack Hoyle (second left) next to Anthony Gibbons as a child who Jack rescued in the late 1970s leading to a campaign to replace and install lifebelts.

A picture of Jack Hoyle (second left) next to Anthony Gibbons as a child who Jack rescued in the late 1970s leading to a campaign to replace and install lifebelts.

She and Jack, now 71, are reminding people, especially children, about the importance of why lifebelts are there, and not to interfere with them.

Joane, of Seaton Carew, was walking her dog along the promenade off Marine Drive when she saw the lifebelt had been removed.

She said: “There were three young boys about nine or 10 years old.

“One was in the sea. He had hold of the lifebelt by the rope attached to it and was pulling it back and forth through the water.

Anthony Gibbons and Jack Hoyle met up for the first time in almost 40 years this week.

Anthony Gibbons and Jack Hoyle met up for the first time in almost 40 years this week.

“I walked up to them and explained how my dad risked his life and could have died.

“The problem at the time was lifebelts weren’t in place on the pier, so there was no assistance to get them out the water.

“Luckily, my grandad and a policeman dragged my dad and Anthony out the water.

“It started off a national campaign. It was a big scandal all over the UK about lifebelts being missing or vandalised.

“As a result, all the lifebelts were replaced around Hartlepool and other seaside locations around the UK, and I am sure that this helped save lives.

“Every time I see a lifebelt I always think that lifebelt’s there because my dad saved somebody’s life.

“When I saw the kids playing with it I couldn’t ignore it.

“Kids need to be educated about it. They need to know they are not toys.”

She said Jack’s rescue of Anthony happened in October of 1978 or 1979.

He said Joane’s encounter brought memories of that day flooding back.

He said: “It’s not good. I couldn’t get a lifebelt to help us as they were all missing.

“If it wasn’t for the policeman coming in it could have been a double tragedy.”