One year anniversary of canal hero's death

News Shopper: Hema Shah and the memorial plaque to Leigh Hema Shah and the memorial plaque to Leigh

FAMILY and friends have paid tribute to a man who died trying to save a boy from drowning, one year after the tragedy.

Leigh Pitt, 30, drowned on June 7 last year after jumping into a canal to save nine-year-old Harley Bagnall-Taylor.

His fiancee, Hema Shah, is still negotiating with site owners Tilfen Land over safety at Broadwater Lock near Whinchat Road, Thamesmead.

She organised the memorial day beside Gallions Lake by Winchat Road on the anniversary of Leigh's death.

The lake, where a plaque in his memory was unveiled by Gallions housing association last month, was Leigh's favourite fishing spot and Ms Shah said he would often go there for several hours after work.

Around 80 people attended including family, friends, former colleagues and PC Ken Chow who dived in to try to help Leigh.

Speaking at the event Ms Shah said: "Anyone who knew Leigh knew that he loved a party. He loved life and lived it to the full.

"I want him to look down from heaven and know that we love and miss him so much.

"We did more in five years than people do in a lifetime."

And his former boss Roland Fletcher, from printing company Williams Lea, said: "Leigh really was a lovely guy who would do anything for anyone.

"The act of diving into the canal was very much in character."

By the lake a memorial tent was set up displaying pictures of Leigh with a book to write messages, leaflets on water safety.

The event also raised around £500 for the Bexley and Greenwich Cottage Hospice charity.

Following another incident in which another man nearly drowned in the same canal, News Shopper launched its Lifeline campaign last November.

Tilfen Land subsequently spent £5,000 on grab chains connected to the side of the canal to provide something to hold on to for anyone who fell in.

But Ms Shah is now requesting for the spot to be drained of its water, leaving just a few inches so the tragedy cannot be repeated.

Ms Shah said: "It's been very hard losing Leigh but I think this has given me something to focus on.

"We've lost someone so special and it's not fair just because he gave up his life for someone else.

"People had to jump in that water and I don't want that to happen again."

She is being supported in her campaign by MP for Erith and Thamesmead John Austen and Bexley councillor for Thamesmead East Cllr Sandra Bauer.

Marie Hills, whose son Martin also tried to save Leigh, said over the 20 years she had lived there she had helped rescue numerous people who had fallen into the canal.

And Cllr Bauer said: "We don't want there to be water in there anymore. We just want to support Hema in her quest to get this sorted out.

"It's still dangerous and there are only grab chains on one side."

A memorial plaque is being dedicated to Leigh in the City of London's Postman's Park memorial garden and his name will be added to a list of heroes by the British Carnegie Hero Fund Trust.

A spokesman for Tilfen Land said: "Draining the canal is something we're still looking at but it's not straightforward.

"We are liaising with the Environment Agency and Greenwich Council."

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