A SCHOOLBOY who was seen falling into the Leeds and Liverpool Canal was feared dead today as the search for him entered its third day.

Shaun Smith, seven, of Gloucester Road, Blackburn, was last seen by his four-year-old friend and neighbour in a stretch of water behind the town's B and Q superstore in Blakewater Road.

The boy, who has not been named, ran to the nearby Tesco supermarket to get help when Shaun fell in shortly after 3pm on Saturday, and later described how his friend was struggling and splashing about in the water when he left.

The tot later told police officers Shaun was trying to free himself from his jacket as he went under the surface. Inspector Stuart Coates, of Lancashire police said: "The child is adamant that Shaun is in the water and has shown us where they were when he tripped and fell in.

"Our hopes of finding Shaun alive are diminishing rapidly as time goes on but we must always keep hope and will continue searching."

Two people who were passing at the time were already in the water trying to find Shaun when the emergency services arrived.

More than 30 officers from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service were at the scene within minutes, including crew from Blackburn fire station, members of the Incident Support Unit based at Accrington and specially-trained officers in the Major Incident Support Unit in Preston. They carried out a detailed search of the canal but found no sign of the boy. Police frogmen were also called in to search parts of the canal while the Lancashire Constabulary helicopter circled Shaun's neighbourhood as well as the area between his home and the canal.

They used the thermal imaging camera in an attempt to locate the boy while a public address system on board asked people to look out for him.

Members of Shaun's immediate family, including his mum and dad Lynn and Robert and his older brother, have kept an almost permanent vigil by the canal.

Insp Coates said: "They are anxious and frustrated and as time goes by it is not getting easier for them."

Members of Rossendale Search and Rescue Team joined the search when it resumed yesterday. Police divers extended their underwater search in both directions of the canal while members of the fire brigade took part in another line sweep. Inspector Coates said: "The fact is that Shaun is missing and we are looking at every possible place he could be. We are still concentrating on the canal but the search and rescue team are combing the area nearby in case he has got out. We have extended the search in every direction."

A police spokesman added: "The team believe Shaun is in the canal because of the graphic description given by the other little boy. The simple fact is that even if he is not there, he is still missing and we are starting to fear the worst."

The team will today search a culvert which runs under the canal, as well as neighbouring streams. Police are also patrolling the canal bank in case the body rises to the surface.

Shaun has short, light-brown hair and was wearing a black and grey fleece top, light blue jeans and trainers. Anyone with any information should contact Blackburn police on 01254 51212.

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