Brave mum who risked life to save man who threatened to jump from Newhaven bridge said she would ‘do the same in a heart beat’

Newhaven swing bridge
Newhaven swing bridge

A mother who helped save the life of a man who threatened to jump into an icy river, said she would do the same in a ‘heart beat.’

Brave mum Paula Woolven and her daughter Rebecca, 19, grabbed the man and helped police bring him to safety as he teetered over the River Ouse on the safety railings on the north side of Newhaven Swing Bridge on Wednesday evening (February 4).

The man told officers if police approached him he would jump and so Paula and her daughter calmly spoke to the man in a bid to help.

Paula said she, Rebecca and her husband were off to get a takeaway and were travelling east in a car on the A259 when they spotted the man.

Paula said they got out of the car and tried to calm him as officers raced to the scene.

The man, dressed in a grey hoody and jeans began to lower himself from the bridge and as he let go - risking their own lives - the women courageously managed to grab his wrists and hang on to him as he dangled over the edge.

Police officers who had been waiting at a discreet distance then dashed forward to help and and pull the man back to safety.

Paula said: “The water looked ice cold. It looked horrible. The whole thing went on for 45 minutes but it felt like hours.

“It wouldn’t have crossed my mind not to help him and I would do it again in a heart beat.

“I was asked what I would have done if he had gone over, and I said I would have gone over after him, I am quite a good swimmer. It does not make sense not to help someone in trouble.

“I would expect someone to help me.

“I have such huge respect for police and the coastguard. I was shaking but that was just one night for me, but they have to do this every night. I got to go home and have a cup of tea. I was shaking like a leaf, but that is every night for them.

“I also realised I cut my thumb open on the bridge. I didn’t realise until I was putting the kettle on and my daughter said where did all of that blood come from.

“But it doesn’t matter, I am just so glad the man is alright.”

Paula continued: “It just shows in that situation you don’t have to have training. It’s just common sense really. I was just trying to keep him talking. I asked him if he was a dog or cat person, I was trying to think of films and how they help people in them.

“I would urge anyone to just go and try and help. I couldn’t stand by and do nothing.”

A couple from Carshalton, Surrey, who were also at the scene, used ropes and a life buoy to try to help secure him as he struggled to break free.

The man was detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act and taken to Eastbourne District General Hospital for treatment, police said.

Sergeant Kevin Leete, of the Newhaven police neighbourhood response team, was among officers who responded to the emergency said Paula and Rebecca showed ‘great courage.’

He said everyone had done the ‘right thing’ to save the man and had bravely risked their own safety with the freezing water threatening below.

He said: “The two women who engaged with the man and who were the first to grab him as he let go showed great presence of mind and indeed, courage, as they hung onto him while officers ran in to help.

“They were also in some danger as the man was struggling to release himself and the river below was approaching high tide, which generates strong currents.

“The water temperature was only around eight degrees centigrade and it was freezing cold in the wind.”

Sgt Leete added: “Everyone involved did just the right things and probably saved this man’s life.

“Given the tide and temperatures, plus the height of the bridge, the consequences could have been much more serious.”

The coastguard and lifeboat were also alerted.