The heartbroken family of a decorated policeman who twice put his own life in danger to save others has today paid an emotional tribute to him.
Martin Hewitson, who died earlier this month from a diabetes-related illness, thought his life was over when, aged just 28, he jumped into the sea in a valiant effort to save his colleagues from drowning as they rushed to the aid of a Scottish tourist who was trying to rescue his dog from the water.
Three police officers and the tourist died that day in 1983, and Mr Hewitson himself prepared himself for death.
It was the second time he had braved Blackpool’s dangerous waters.
Just a few years after joining the police force, aged 19, he was called to St Annes where two youngsters had become stranded by the incoming tide.
His wife, Ella, said: “He told me the water had come up behind them, and when he got there he had to piggy-back them both to safety.
“I know it was quite tough by the time he reached the second one and he struggled to get him to the shore, but he managed it and he was given a commendation by the Liverpool Lifeboat Association.”
For his later efforts on that tragic day in January 1983, Mr Hewitson was presented with a plaque and a letter from then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was an event that stayed with Mr Hewitson for the rest of his life, but one he rarely spoke of.
Ella, 62, said: “He just said it was part of the job.
“It was like he built a wall and he’d keep everything about the job behind it.”
Ella, of Victoria Road East, Thornton, said Mr Hewitson loved being a bobby on the beat.
In the early 1990s he was transferred to Scotland Yard to train in counter-terrorism and when he returned later that year he was posted at Fleetwood port and Blackpool Airport.
Just before taking early retirement in 2000, Mr Hewitson transferred to Lancashire Police headquarters in Hutton to work, as he told his family, on crime figures.
In retirement Mr Hewitson bought a rest home, which this year celebrated its 10th year under its new ownership.
Ella, who still runs Briars Rest Home and Briars Home Care Services, said: “He was very caring and very good with older people. Most of the residents adored him – we were like a little family.”
Ella’s daughter, and Mr Heritson’s step-daughter, Vicky added: “That’s when we really saw Martin’s funny side.
“He was always quite serious when he was with the police, but all of a sudden he was having his picture taken as his head was in a bowl of custard.”
Earlier this year Mr Hewitson, who would have been 61 on Monday, was taken to hospital after banging his toe.
Because of his diabetes, surgeons had to amputate, then later had to remove his right leg below the knee.
“He never really recovered from it,” Ella said.
“He was at Blackpool Victoria Hospital for a month then transferred to Rossall for six weeks.”
Mr Hewitson was due to be discharged on Tuesday, May 6. He was looking forward to returning home, and was even planning a summer break to the south of France to see his nephew, Chris.
Tragically, he died the day before he was due to go home.
Ella added: “There was no warning at all; it was such a shock. I will remember him as a very sensitive and loving person. He was a gentle giant.”
Mr Hewitson’s life will be celebrated at a service at Carleton Crematorium at 2.30pm on Monday, followed by a wake at Blackpool and Fleetwood Yacht Club off Skippool Road.