The article by Eleanor Harding and Mark Duell states:
It looked like a major emergency – 25 firemen standing at the water’s edge assessing the life-threatening situation before them.
Stranded 200ft out and struggling for survival was the victim they had come to rescue...a seagull.
And if that scenario were not ludicrous enough, there was worse to come.
The firemen were then barred from going into the 3ft-deep water because it was judged to be a health and safety risk.
As crews from five fire engines stood beside the pond in South London for up to an hour, it fell to a member of the public to pull on his waders and rescue the bird, which was caught up in a plastic bag.
It was accompanied by an editorial (which included the curious phrase 'the legendary Mr Littlejohn') and was followed by comment pieces by Dominique Jackson and Mr Littlejohn. All refer to a health and safety risk assessment that stopped the firemen from rescuing the bird.
However, the London Fire Brigade's statement on the incident puts it slightly differently:
The Brigade was called to the scene by the RSPCA as an emergency and the Brigade always takes calls from such organisations seriously. Firefighters arrived on the scene at 1407 and the incident was declared over at 1411.
A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said:
“The RSPCA called us out as an emergency. Our firefighters rushed to the scene only to realise they’d been called out to a seagull with a plastic bag round its leg which was swimming around quite happily and wasn’t in any distress. This clearly wasn’t an emergency so the firefighters left it to a local animal rescue charity to deal with and swiftly left the scene.”
“Often, by the time our firefighters arrive at an incident, someone has waded in to try and rescue an animal only to get into danger themselves, so we send enough crews to deal with whatever we may find. The safety of the public and our firefighters is always our priority.”
Firefighters were not stopped from entering the water due to health and safety protocols. Just this week, LFB crews were called to rescue a man after the bulldozer he was driving fell 40 feet down into a quarry pit. When they realised the man’s life was at risk, the firefighters acted outside of normal procedures and risked their own personal safety to lift him out and save his life. London Fire Brigade’s firefighter are trained to make difficult judgement calls about when it is right to risk their lives in order to save another.
The Mail has not published this statement.
The Mail also contacted the HSE's Mythbusters Challenge Panel on Thursday, and then wrote a critical, mocking article when they didn't get an immediate response - presumably, a response to the version of the incident as told to them by the Mail:
The Daily Mail contacted the panel at 3pm. But despite being given a whole afternoon to mull it over and it being only the fifth inquiry since the panel’s launch a day before, it failed to give an answer.
It's open to question whether contacting someone at 3pm really gives them 'a whole afternoon' to reply. But perhaps the Panel wanted to do a bit more fact-checking before giving a knee-jerk reaction? In fact, the Panel issued a statement on Friday - the day the Mail's front page article appeared. It said:
"We have now had chance to examine the facts in this case and it is clear that it was not about health and safety at all. The fire service itself has made clear that their decisions at Carshalton were not based on health and safety factors. We endorse this view.
"The Myth Buster Challenge Panel has been set up to bring common sense back to decisions made in the name of health and safety, and to do our job properly we need to establish the facts. We will try our best to meet deadlines when we can but not at the expense of working on hearsay rather than facts. We said that we aim to make a response within 48 hours and it has taken us less than 24 hours to respond to this case."
Despite the hurry to get the Panel's view, and the huffy response when they didn't get it within a few hours, the Mail has not yet informed its readers of this statement.
A statement which has, at time of writing, been in the public domain for two days.