WHEN a group of friends started to regularly swim in the North Sea, off the Scarborough coast, little did they realise that they would end up challenging the authorities and eventually force a change in EU regulations.
A new book has been published which has been written by Charles White – one of the founding members of the Sons of Neptune – which outlines their struggle for cleaner bathing waters off the Yorkshire Coast.
He said that he had been writing The Adventures of The Sons of Neptune since 1996 and when the group was formed in 1983 they did not realise the scale of the struggle they had taken on – their main aim was to stop untreated sewage being pumped straight into the North Sea.
During the 1980s the Conservative Government – headed by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – was planning to privatise the water companies and the Sons feared that big business would put profits before public health.
The 69-year-old, who is also known locally as Dr Rock, said: “One of the world’s leading marine biologists offered to give us a copy of a report before it was presented to Congress in the USA.”
The campaign gathered momentum and the Sons, who were famous for their eye-catching publicity stunts, were featured in TV programmes by Tyne Tees TV and Newsnight. “When we got on Newsnight that was the key,” he said.
To highlight the issue the group even sailed a Thatcherloo up the River Thames and adopted catch phrases such as “Britannia Waives The Rules”. He added that the group members had noticed a deterioration in water quality – at the time about 180,000 gallons of detergent were being pumped directly into the sea.
He said: “That was the least of our problems. The sea was a great treatment plant and we were warned by experts that the bacteria would mutate.” Perceived thinking at the time was that the sea would kill off bacteria naturally and the waste was pumped into the ocean via waste water outlets a few miles from the shore.
He said: “We kept on fighting. If you told me that we would have spent 20 years fighting against the dumping of untreated waste into the sea I’d have asked for my money back.
“We changed the EEC law and we are proud to say that the North Bay has a blue flag. We are now working with Yorkshire Water.”
But during their campaign they faced a lot of criticism from certain quarters, particularly some council leaders, who felt they were damaging the tourist trade because outsiders felt that Scarborough was swimming in sewage.
Other founding members of the group included the lawyer Freddie Drabble, master mariner Capt Sydney Smith, accountant Chris Found, bookmaker Cecil Ridley, salesman Bryan Dew and school master Geoff Nunn.
Charles said he was pleased to have been able to publish their story. He said: “I feel as though I’ve been knocked out by Muhammad Ali – it’s taken so much of my time and energy. It’s something that got hold of me.”
He added that as well as the serious campaign the group managed to have lots of fun by playing elaborate practical jokes on each other – including one with a fake shark fin cutting through the waters off the South Bay.
This week it was revealed that Yorkshire Water is planning to invest more than £40 million to upgrade Scarborough’s sewage network with the aim of attaining the new EU excellent standard for bathing water off the Yorkshire Coast.
l Charles White will be signing copies of his book at Waterstones in Westborough on Saturday, July 30, between 1pm and 3pm.