RNLI ‘offered lifeguards for Camber Sands three years before seven drownings’

PUBLISHED: 14:31 29 June 2017

Police officers on Camber Sands near Rye, East Sussex. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Police officers on Camber Sands near Rye, East Sussex. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

The inquest continues

The RNLI offered to deploy lifeguards at a popular south coast beach three years before seven men drowned, three of whom were from the borugh, but the offer was not taken up, an inquest has heard.

A risk assessment by the charity in 2013 made the recommendation for lifeguards to man Camber Sands, near Rye, East Sussex, following a death and a number of near-misses in 2012.

A death also occurred at Camber in 2015. But it emerged that lifeguards were not introduced until after seven men, including five friends on a day-trip to the coast from London, had drowned last summer.

At the inquest in Hastings, questions were asked by the coroner and a lawyer representing some of the victims’ families about why lifeguards were not deployed at Camber sooner.

Robert Cass, a coastal officer, said such decisions were made by more senior members as he compared himself to a police constable using resources given to him by superiors.

Prior to the seven deaths last summer, Camber had no lifeguard cover and was manned by beach patrol staff whose tasks included reuniting lost children with their parents and dealing with lost property.

East Sussex senior coroner Alan Craze asked Mr Cass: “You had the death in 2012 and had to consider the realisation that if someone gets into difficulty, there is no way to identify that person and do anything about it.”

Mr Cass was further asked why the recommendation for lifeguard deployment was not taken up. He replied: “That was a decision made over my head.”

In recent years, Mr Cass said there had been an increase in the level of naivety among beach-goers at Camber about personal safety amid a changing demographic.

In particular, he pointed to large groups of people from ethnic communities flocking to the East Sussex beach from London, causing beach staff to take “adaptive measures”.

Mr Cass said it was important for people to be educated about beach safety before they arrive. And he added: “The most valuable form of engagement is verbal interaction.”

But he also said that despite pre-emptive measures, he feared another tragedy could happen again at Camber Sands, which can attract up to 30,000 visitors at peak times.

The five friends who died last August 24 were Kenugen Saththiyanathan, 18, known as Ken, and his brother Kobikanthan Saththiyanathan, 22, known as Kobi, both of Normandy Way, Erith, and their friends Nitharsan Ravi, 22, of Admaston Road, Plumstead, Inthushan Sriskantharasa, 23, of Chadwell Road, Grays, Essex, and Gurushanth Srithavarajah, 27, of Elsa Road, Welling.

The inquest has heard that all five men who drowned were fit, healthy and competent swimmers, and that the coast off Camber has “hidden dangers”.

The two others who lost their lives at Camber about a month earlier were Mohit Dupar, 36, from Hayes, west London, who tried to reach Brazilian Gustavo Silva Da Cruz, 19, as he got into difficulty, but both died.

Their deaths are also being considered as part of the inquest into the five friends’ loss of life.

The deaths prompted calls for improved safety at Camber, resulting in Rother District Council agreeing in February this year to allocate £51,000 in its 2017/18 budget for seasonal lifeguard cover this summer.

Council officials have said the beach, which is three miles (4.8km) long and nearly half-a-mile (700m) wide at low tide, could never be completely risk-free.

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