TRIBUTES have been paid to an 11-year-old boy who died after falling into the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in Burnley.
Shuttleworth College pupil Robbie Williamson was walking on a pipe attached to the canal bridge in Lowerhouse Lane, Rosegrove, when he slipped and hit his head on the path before landing in the water.
Nearby resident Peter Graham jumped into the canal and managed to pull Robbie out but he died later at Royal Blackburn Hospital.
Robbie’s dad, Dean Williamson, a 37-year-old joiner, said his family was ‘devastated’ and described his son as ‘the best’.
He said: “He was just the best in the world. He was funny, cheeky and always had a smile on his face. I can’t believe it.”
Fire crews and paramedics were called out at 6.55pm on Tuesday after a passer-by saw the fall.
Mr Graham, 44, dashed from his house in Lowerhouse Lane to the bridge barefoot after being alerted by his brother, Stephen, who was on his way to visit him.
Mr Graham, whose 12-year-old daughter, Shannon, was a classmate of Robbie’s, said: “I was upstairs cleaning when I heard my brother shouting and screaming.
“I ran down to the canal and just jumped in without thinking and pulled him out. There were four or five kids and they said he had tried to walk across the pipe but slipped.
“I was up to my stomach getting him out. It was all over inside a minute.”
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Mr Graham, a former soldier in the Royal Artillery who is now a carer for his wife, Mandy, said he managed to get Robbie breathing before paramedics took over.
He said: “He was blue in the face so I pushed his stomach to get the water out of his lungs. I saw the colour coming back to his face.
“I saw the fire brigade at the next bridge along and jumped up and down to wave them over.
“That pipe needs to be fenced over. I’ve only lived here for two months but I believe that every single day there’s a kid on it.
“My daughter sat with him in school on Tuesday. I feel so upset. It’s devastating. I lost my wallet when I jumped in, but I can replace money. You can’t replace a life.”
Yesterday dozens of flowers were laid at the scene by Robbie’s tearful family and friends, who all referred to him as a ‘cheeky chappy’.
Robbie’s step-mum, Clare Ward, said the youngster enjoyed motocross and biking with his older brother, Morgan, 16.
Miss Ward, a support worker, said: “We found out when the police knocked on our door and told us there had been a serious accident at the canal.
“He fought for his life in the ambulance. We were sick and just held his hand and prayed to God that he’d pull through but his heart kept stopping.
“Me, his dad and his mum were by his side until he died, along with his nana and Nicola’s mum. We’re all devastated.
“All I can say to the man who jumped in is thank you for everything he’s done. I’m forever grateful for what he did.
“Robbie loved his motocross just like his brother and his dad. He lived a life typical of any boy his age. He loved playing out with his mates and getting up to mischief.
“On Tuesday he told me he was going down to the cricket club and that was the last we saw him. He was such a loving lad. We’re going to miss him so much.”
Robbie, of Bear Street, Lowerhouse, is also survived by his mum, Nicola Grimshaw, his step-brother Coby Hewitt, six, and step-sister Skye Williamson, three.
John Williamson, a cousin of Robbie’s dad Dean, visited Mr Graham yesterday to thank him for his efforts.
He said: “We’re all just devastated and can’t stop crying. By the time we got there he was out of the water.
“He seemed to be all right in the ambulance. When they took him down for a brain scan his heart stopped. They revived him once but couldn’t bring him back again.”
Josh Stevenson, 11, who was Robbie’s best friend at school, said children would often climb up onto the pipe using a metal fence which runs alongside the steep, cobbled path down from Lowerhouse Lane to the canal path.
He laid flowers at the scene with his mum, Sarah, who said: “It’s just devastating. I can’t believe it. All the kids have done it. It needs blocking off.”
Bob Wakefield, headteacher at Shuttleworth College said: “Robbie was just a good lad, a straightforward good lad.
“He came in, worked hard and always had a smile on his face. He was bursting with life, bursting with energy and we will miss him very much.
“Robbie had a lot of friends here and we have held assemblies with each of the year groups and have taken the opportunity to reflect on Robbie’s life together. It is a huge tragedy and a huge loss for us all.”
Lancashire police confirmed that the death was not being treated as suspicious.