Nine-year-old boy saved by mum after falling down Wilstone manhole with no cover on it

Wilstone manhole.
Wilstone manhole.

A nine-year-old boy had to be rescued by his mother after he fell down a manhole whose cover had come off.

Gill Burnell had just picked up her son Sam and two other children from a cub meeting in Wilstone on Friday night.

Wilstone manhole.

Wilstone manhole.

They were about to get into her car, which was parked opposite The Half Moon pub in Tring Road.

She said: “It was very dark and raining. Suddenly one of the boys shouted out that Sam had fallen down a hole. I couldn’t see Sam at all and assumed he had tripped and fallen down.

“I could hear him screaming and thought he must have really hurt himself so rushed around to the passenger side of the car.

“When I got there to my horror, in the pitch dark, I realised my son had fallen down an open drain. I could just make out my son’s head.

Wilstone manhole.

Wilstone manhole.

“His friend was pulling his hand and Sam was holding onto a cone by the side of the hole that he had grabbed as he slipped down.

“He was up to his armpits in water and his feet were still not at the bottom.

“None of us could see what was happening, but somehow I was able to grab my son under his armpits and literally drag him out of the drain.

“Fortunately the only injury sustained was shock and severe bruising to his shins and thighs where they scraped the edges of the drain on the way out.

“Obviously every item of clothing he was wearing was drenched.”

Her husband Richard phoned Thames Water that night to tell the company about the open drain – and was told it would be fixed within eight hours.

But when Richard and Gill returned the next day, the drain was still uncovered with just a few cones around it.

Gill said: “Had my five-year-old daughter been the one who slipped in, this would definitely have been fatal as the depth of water was much higher than her.

“She would have gone straight to the bottom as she is not strong enough to hold onto anything and I certainly would not have been able to reach in and pull her out.”


Thames Water spokesman Sarah Sharpe said: “We are extremely sorry about this incident. There is no excuse for the delay in getting this fixed.

“We would like to offer our sincere apologies to the family and reassure them that our contact centre agents are, as a priority, being strongly reminded of how to prioritise serious cases like this.

“We would also like to remind customers to please avoid walking in flood water as manhole covers are at risk of coming loose due to the extreme flooding and high groundwater levels.”

She said the customer service agent who answered Gill’s call didn’t select the right priority level – it should have been fixed within four hours, but it was misallocated.