Latest Suicide Bridge victim named as Archway residents call for action
Should more be done to stop people plunging to their death from Islington’s famous landmark?
THERE have been three deaths at Archway Bridge in almost as many weeks – and now there are calls for something to finally be done about the landmark known as Suicide Bridge.
The bridge has long had this unenviable reputation– like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the George Washington Memorial Bridge in Seattle.
And in the past month alone, three people have plunged the 60 feet from Archway Bridge down to Archway Road below.
On October 19, David Bennett, of Hillfield Mews, Hornsey, plunged to his death five days after his 33rd birthday. Witnesses reported that he had taken a ladder with him to climb over the barrier.
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On November 5, schizophrenia-sufferer Andrew Mactier, of Priory Road, Crouch End, followed suit – seven days before his 32nd birthday.
And last Wednesday, police were called at 11.45pm to reports that a man had fallen from the bridge. Ryan George, 29, of Brunswick Road, South Tottenham, was pronounced dead shortly after midnight.
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There are now calls for something to finally be done – not only to save the lives of the victims, but also because they risk hitting a moving car and causing a lethal traffic pile-up.
Community campaigner and counsellor Sue Hessel believes an emergency phone and an advice board should be installed – just like at the Golden Gate Bridge.
She said: “We have people falling to their deaths and we have the risk of death to the people travelling along the A1. It’s doubly serious. The authorities have to look again at making the bridge more secure.
“We should put up a notice board with the Samaritans hotline – and maybe even an emergency phone. People can get into a very dark state of mind so it’s important that they always know there is help out there.”
It is far from the first time that people have called for action to be taken since the bridge was completed in 1900.
Back in 1971, the then Islington North MP – Michael O’Halloran – brought up the issue in Parliament, saying: “Not a week goes by when I do not receive complaints from people living in the vicinity about someone having been seen climbing on the railings of the bridge.
“Are we to wait until a very serious accident occurs, with heavy loss of life, or are we to take steps now to prevent such an event?”
Over the years, work has taken place – the height of the railings has been increased, steel mesh panels have been fitted and spikes have been installed.
But Jeremy Corbyn, the current MP for Islington North, agrees that more could be done.
He said: “Because it gets all this publicity as Suicide Bridge, it remains a deeply iconic place. One option is large-scale netting underneath the bridge but I would prefer to look at counselling support. There ought to be a way that people can get directly in touch with the Samaritans while they are there.”
Haringey Council, which is responsible for maintaining the bridge, which lies on the Islington-Haringey border, said it would be difficult to make any further structural changes.
A spokeswoman said: “In 2004-5, as part of strengthening and waterproofing works, Haringey Council introduced further safety measures – installing a security fence to the outside of the parapet and repairing the rotating spikes.
“Archway Bridge is a Grade II listed structure, meaning that scope for physical work is limited. A model for further anti-suicide measures was built and tested in 2005, but did not get approval from English Heritage. We are in discussions with the police to see whether any further improvements are necessary.”
The Samaritans said they would welcome the opportunity to put up information boards. A spokesman said: “We have contacted Haringey Council with a view to displaying Samaritans signs in the area and to discuss what else can be done. Signs displaying the Samaritans’ helpline number can significantly reduce the number of suicides at a specific location. By directing someone who is feeling suicidal to a source of emotional support, you are helping them to stop and think.”
But to the relatives of the victims, whatever work is done to Archway Bridge is of little comfort – because they believe that if someone is determined to take his or her own life, they will find a way.
Mr Mactier’s girlfriend Sara Shammas believes he deliberately set out to end his own life – and would have done so even if he had been unable to do it at Archway Bridge.
Mr Mactier had a six-year-old son, was writing a novel, and wanted to become an occupational therapist.
But he had also battled schizophrenia for 10 years and at the time of his death, was an inpatient at St Ann’s Hospital in Tottenham – where he was being checked every 15 minutes.
Miss Shammas, a 31-year-old psychotherapist, believes the only thing that would have helped would have been better healthcare.
She said: “Andrew was a child genius, doing amazingly well at school and university, but then he became unwell. All he wanted was to get his life back on track so his son could be proud of him.
“His death wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. It was an informed choice. It was his decision and I am very proud of his bravery.
“You can’t blame a location. Obviously I would like them to make it much more difficult for people to commit suicide at Archway Bridge. But if you make it harder there, people will find somewhere else.
“People should concentrate less on the bridge and give a bit more time and understanding to the individuals. The NHS could definitely do more for people who are suicidal before they get to that point – and Andrew would want that to be said.”
* Anyone in distress should contact the Samaritans for confidential, non-judgemental support by phoning 08457 90 90 90, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting www.samaritans.org