The father of a man who died after falling into the lake at the Botanic Gardens in Southport said “no family should have to go through what we have” as he urged people to support the campaign for urgent safety measures.
Peter Smith-Crallan believes his son, Ben, would not have died had railings been in place around the water’s edge. Ben was just 37 years old when he died.
Peter and his family are now urging as many people as possible to support the Make A Change For Ben campaign which wants to see the lake cleaned and safety measures such as water aeration fountains installed.
The group was set up by Ben’s best friend David Rawsthorne, and has already gained over 4,000 supporters through Facebook, attracted nine celebrity supporters including Liverpool FC legend Alan Hansen, Radio 1 DJ Adele Roberts and golfer Tommy Fleetwood and raised over £10,000 towards vital safety work being carried out.
Ben’s sister, Nina Thomas, said: “Even if Ben wasn’t the catalyst for your donation but you love the Botanic Gardens and all that it brings to our community please know that you really will have made a significant difference and we’re all really grateful for that.”
They are working alongside the volunteers from the Botanic Gardens Community Association, who has been campaigning for improvements to the historic park, which first opened in 1884 during Queen Victoria’s reign, for the past 10 years.
Last year the group unsuccessfully submitted a bid for funding to clear out the Botanic Gardens Lake, fully restore the two ornamental bridges and install aerating water features, to bring ‘crystal clear’ waters back.
Ben Smith-Crallan died in June 2018 after falling into the lake. He was placed in an induced coma and had one leg amputated as part of attempts to fight off the effects of Necrotising Fasciitis (NF) before he tragically lost his life.
Ben’s family believe he may have contracted the bug after he cut himself while slipping into the lake at Botanic Gardens in Churchtown.
His dad Peter said: “If railings had been in place around the lake when Ben fell in, then my son wouldn’t have died. What happened to Ben would not have happened.
“Why have railings not been put up before now?
“What happened to Ben, I don’t want to see that happen to any other family.
“They need to put railings around the lake and take regular water samples. The water in there is so bad that drowning there would be the least of your worries.
“The lake needs cleaning up, and water aeration fountains put in.
“That lake has not been touched for the last 40 years.”
Plans are now being put in place for work to be undertaken.
Earlier this month, Sefton Council outlined ideas for up to £30,000 in improvements for the lake and lakeside area. These include new water aeration fountains, the installation of new fencing and secure lifeline stations, as well as plans for annual community clean-up events.
Councillors and council officers, Make A Change For Ben campaigners and the Botanic Gardens Community Association have met to discuss the proposals.
All have agreed the importance of prioritising the aerating fountains as the first phase.
Funding for the phased lakeside improvements is set to come from community fundraising schemes, local ward budgets and the Green Sefton Service.
Cllr Ian Moncur, Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing said: “Our Green Sefton team has been working alongside a number of dedicated community groups who care deeply about the future of the park and are keen to see improvements that benefit everyone who loves spending time there.
“We’re at the stage where we have been able to agree some initial improvements focused on the lakeside area that will complement the work already undertaken, at the beginning of the year, to improve the aviary.
“But our longer-term vision is to reinvigorate the park with a whole host of potential ideas that would offer better facilities for our communities as well as providing a positive boost to the local visitor economy, including the creation of new jobs.”
Peter recalled the devastating way his son died. After Ben fell into the lake at Botanic Gardens, he clambered out and didn’t realise anything was wrong. But he had a cut on his leg.
As an injury developed on his leg, he thought it was gout and went to seek medical help from his GP. His Dad took him.
Peter said: “A few days later, I took Ben to the Roe Lane GP Surgery in Southport. He had big blisters on his leg. I didn’t think anything was seriously wrong.
“I dropped him off there and said I would pick him up after his appointment.
“But the next time I saw him, he was lying in a hospital bed with 15 tubes in him.”
The Make A Change For Ben campaign in Ben’s memory is determined to ensure that the lake is made safe for all the tens of thousands of families who visit the park every year.
Peter said: “I think it is brilliant what David and the Make A Change For Ben campaign have achieved so far. He has done superbly well to get so many local people and so many celebrities involved in backing the campaign.
“When Ben died, I was very angry. I wrote a lot of emails to a lot of people, but I didn’t really get anywhere. I was upset with everyone, and everything.
“That’s the good thing about the campaign and all the people who are now supporting it.
“It’s much easier to take notice of thousands of people rather than just one.
“I would love to see more people join the campaign to improve the Botanic Gardens.
“The need to put railings around the lake, take regular water samples and get it cleaned up as soon as possible.”
In August, Sefton Council published a report outlining some of the changes that could be made at Botanic Gardens if they can source an estimated £5million funding for the work to be carried out. The council wants to support a new major development scheme for Botanic Gardens and begin exploring possible funding streams and developing a project team to set out a detailed vision for the park.
Sefton recognises that “The park is in a declining condition with heritage features degenerating, this has meant North Meols Conservation Area has been placed on the national ‘Heritage at Risk’ Register.”
Its long-term vision is “to restore Botanic Gardens into a high-quality tourist destination attraction for Southport”.
The wish list contains items such as converting the forner Botanic Gardens Museum into a wedding venue; bringing boats back; adding fairground rides; creating a new cafe; providing a high ropes course; building a butterfly house and a cactus house; and more besides.
Peter’s priority is to introduce safety measures to the lake and its surrounding area as soon as possible.
He said: “We urgently need to raise the money needed to make the lake and the surrounding area safe. The rest can wait.
“In the longer term, we want to see the park brought back to how it was in the 1980s and 1990s.
“But we need to see changes made to the lake now.”
David Rawsthorne said: “It is sadly too late for Ben now. But he is the driving force behind our campaign to make the Botanic Gardens and the lake safe for others.
“We need to see safety measures made urgently.”
Ben’s sister, Nina Thomas, said: “Speaking about Ben and what happened is an explicit reminder of what we have lost and when we lost him, we feel we lost everything.
“My Dad and I would like to sincerely thank all of you who have shown support to Ben.
“Even if Ben wasn’t the catalyst for your donation but you love the Botanic Gardens and all that it brings to our community please know that you really will have made a significant difference and we’re all really grateful for that.
“Ben would be so unbelievably embarrassed about all of this. If there is a heaven I can imagine him flustered and red-faced, wondering what on God’s green earth was going on.
“What I do know for sure is that the embarrassment would be matched by an incredible sense of pride for his friend David Rawsthorne and what he has managed to achieve so far in his memory.
“Grief is an unimaginable weight to carry so David has shown an incredible strength channelling his own grief in such a positive way and he deserves so much credit for that.
“Well done David, he would be so proud of you.”
Botanic Gardens Community Association Chairman David Codham said: “We have received some great support from local people and local companies to ensure the continued maintenance of the park over the last 10 years, for the provision of flowers, to enable us to keep the public toilets open, to carry out the refurbishment of the aviary. They have got involved, which has really helped.
“Now we really need support to clear the lake, repair the bridges and to install water aeration features and make it a safer and more pleasant environment for everyone.”
- To donate, please visit the Botanic Gardens Fundraiser GoFundMe page here.
- You can join the “Make a change” For Ben – Campaign To Get Botanic Gardens Lake Cleaned Facebook group here.