‘Anyone would have done the same’ – Hitchin market trader and animal lover saves young woman in River Hiz drama

Market trader Viv Lesnick pictured with husband Barry, and their pugs, Rhoda and Maurice, saved a wo

Market trader Viv Lesnick pictured with husband Barry, and their pugs, Rhoda and Maurice, saved a woman's life who had jumped into the River Hiz at 5am on Saturday morning - Credit: Archant

A young woman was saved from drowning by a heroic Hitchin market stall trader in the early hours of Saturday morning – thanks to her love of the town’s swans.

Animal-lover Viv Lesnick was helping her husband Barry set up their menswear market stall in Churchgate as usual around 5.30am when she heard a splash coming from the nearby River Hiz outside St Mary’s Church.

Viv – who always keeps an eye and an ear out for the wedge of swans who live around the church – was concerned when the early morning noise she heard did not sound familiar. She then ran over to see what had happened and found a young woman floundering in the freezing cold water.

The 72-year-old told the Comet: “It didn’t sound like a noise the swans would usually make, and they are normally still asleep at that time anyway, so I rushed over.

“It was still dark but when I got there I saw someone in the water splashing around and waving their arms in the water near the church.

“She appeared to be in her late teens or early 20s. She had very little clothing on.

“I didn’t think, I just went over and tried to pull her out. She was a dead weight but luckily Barry had followed me over and he helped to pull her out of the icy water.

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“She must have been freezing as there was a film of ice on the top of the water. She wasn’t unconscious, so we just wanted to get some blankets and sheets over her as she was cold and shivering.

“We sat her down, and I rubbed her back to warm her up and just talked to her to keep her awake – but she seemed quite out of it.

“I said to her: ‘What were you doing in the water love? And she replied ‘what water?’

“I think she was a bit confused, bless her.”

The ambulance service was called and took the woman to Lister Hospital in Stevenage, with police informed amid concerns she may have been with someone else who could have fallen in.

They spoke with her and carried out further enquiries such as checking the area near the river and CCTV, as well as speaking with witnesses, before confirming no-one else had entered the water.

“I do dread to think what would have happened if it hadn’t been a market day though, or if no-one had heard the splash,” added Viv, who also owns two pugs, called Rhoda and Maurice.

“I suppose you could say my love of the swans helped in saving her, as I always listen out for them when we set out our stall. I’m an animal lover anyway but they are beautiful birds.

“I don’t see myself as a hero in any way, shape or form. Anyone would have done what I did if they had heard the splash – I just hope she is ok.”

Her husband Barry said: “We’ve been on Hitchin market for 52 years and seen a lot of things – but never something like this.”

Viv’s daughter Vickie Lesnick, who runs the Lesnick School of Ballet in the town, said she was proud of her mum and dad.

The ambulance service confirmed the woman made a full physical recovery and police are not treating the incident as suspicious.