Bournemouth beach deaths: what happened as all boat operations are suspended from Bournemouth pier

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All boat operations have been suspended as investigations into the cause of the tragedy that claimed the lives of two children continues

All boat operations have been suspended from Bournemouth pier following the death of two swimmers last week, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council has announced.

It comes after an inquest heard on Monday (5 June) that two children who died after getting into difficulty in the water off Bournemouth beach drowned. Joe Abbess, 17, from Southampton, and Sunnah Khan, 12, from Buckinghamshire, were rescued from the sea during the incident on Wednesday (31 May), but sadly both died later in hospital.

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A BCP (Bournemouth Christchurch Poole) Council spokesman said: “All boat operations from the pier have been suspended as a precaution, pending a conclusion to the police investigation.

“We are aware the investigation is complex and will consult with Dorset Police when the investigation is complete.”

In a hearing to open the inquest proceedings at Bournemouth Town Hall on Monday, Dorset coroner’s officer Nicola Muller said that post mortem examinations carried out by Home Office pathologist Basil Purdue showed the cause of their deaths was drowning.

She said that Joe, a trainee chef, was identified by police from a photograph provided by his family, while Sunnah was identified by her father at the hospital.

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Describing the incident, Ms Muller said: “The brief circumstances are that emergency services were contacted by members of the public following swimmers had come into difficulty in the water, following suggestion they had been caught in a riptide.”

An inquest has heard that 17-year-old Joe Abbess, and 12-year-old Sunnah Khan died from drowning after a “suggestion” that they got into difficulty by getting caught in a riptide in the sea off Bournemouth beach.(Photos: Stephanie Williams/Dorset Police/PA Wire)An inquest has heard that 17-year-old Joe Abbess, and 12-year-old Sunnah Khan died from drowning after a “suggestion” that they got into difficulty by getting caught in a riptide in the sea off Bournemouth beach.(Photos: Stephanie Williams/Dorset Police/PA Wire)
An inquest has heard that 17-year-old Joe Abbess, and 12-year-old Sunnah Khan died from drowning after a “suggestion” that they got into difficulty by getting caught in a riptide in the sea off Bournemouth beach.(Photos: Stephanie Williams/Dorset Police/PA Wire) | Stephanie Williams/Dorset Police/PA Wire

Senior Coroner Rachael Griffin adjourned the inquest to 18 September, and said she was unable to make any progress in her inquiries due to the ongoing police investigation.

“It’s very important people do not speculate on the circumstances surrounding Joe and Sunnah’s deaths and allow the police investigation to proceed, which will allow my investigation to proceed," she said.

She added: “I wish to take this opportunity to remind all those who enter the sea or open water to be aware of the powers of the water and the risks of swimming in open water... It’s important they are aware of how to respond when problems arise and urge people to follow guidance from public agencies such as the RNLI.”

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Dorset Police said the beach was extremely busy at the time of the incident, and were continuing to appeal to witnesses to come forward, including anyone with mobile phone or photographic footage that could help.

The force said that neither of the two young children nor anyone else pulled from the sea at the time of the incident was involved in any collision or contact with any vessel in the water.

A man in his 40s, who was “on the water” at the time, was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter, and was released under investigation on Thursday (1 June).

Police said they are aware of “significant speculation” concerning a pleasure boat, which was in the area at the time of the tragedy off Bournemouth Pier, and the investigation is looking at all circumstances of the incident including weather, wind conditions and the state of the water at the time.

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As there was a pleasure boat in the area of water, this is just one of several lines of inquiry, police said. It comes after the Dorset Belle sightseeing boat was impounded by Dorset Police after the incident.

Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Corrigan said: “We continue to keep an open mind around the circumstances that have led to the tragic death of two young people in the water off the beach. Our thoughts remain with the families of those young people.

“As with any investigation of this nature, we have to look at all factors connected to the state of the water. One of those lines of enquiry has involved the pleasure boat, which was in the area at the time of the incident. These enquiries also include examining wind, other weather and general coastal conditions at the time.

The Dorset Belle has been impounded after a 17-year-old-boy and a girl aged 12 sustained "critical injuries" on Wednesday, and later died in hospital following an incident off Bournemouth beach. (Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)The Dorset Belle has been impounded after a 17-year-old-boy and a girl aged 12 sustained "critical injuries" on Wednesday, and later died in hospital following an incident off Bournemouth beach. (Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)
The Dorset Belle has been impounded after a 17-year-old-boy and a girl aged 12 sustained "critical injuries" on Wednesday, and later died in hospital following an incident off Bournemouth beach. (Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire) | Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

“We are working with experts from partner agencies to understand all of the factors and this will take time to establish. We continue to support the families of Joe and Sunnah and they are being kept updated by specially trained family liaison officers about our investigation.

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“I would ask that the police investigation is allowed to continue without further unhelpful speculation around circumstances of the incident, and that there is respect for the families of those who have died so tragically. I would continue to appeal to anyone at the beach at the time who witnessed the incident to come forward and talk to us.”

A funeral for Sunnah Khan was held over the weekend, with the 12-year-old laid to rest on Saturday (3 June), the BBC reports. More than 200 people are understood to have attended the ceremony at High Wycombe Mosques. Police have confirmed that victims Sunnah and Joe were not related.

Dorset Police are working with the Marine Accident Investigation Branch and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, as they continue to investigate the incident.

Here's everything you need to know.

What do we know so far about what caused the incident?

A man aged in his 40s who was “on the water” at the time of the deadly incident was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter, but was been released under investigation on Thursday (1 June) while police inquiries continued.

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A sightseeing boat called the Dorset Belle became the centre of investigations, and was impounded by Dorset Police. According to the website Marine Traffic, the vessel had visited Bournemouth Pier - the scene of the tragic incident - at 4pm, just minutes before the first 999 calls were made.

Dorset Police have shared little information on what has happened, except to say that no physical contact was made between the swimmers and any vessel, and those involved had not been jumping off the pier.

A spokesman for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council told PA they did not licence the Dorset Belle, despite the authority’s website stating: “Any person who wishes to be in charge or navigate a pleasure boat/vessel, including Poole Harbour and Christchurch Harbour, for the purpose of letting it out for hire to members of the public, or to be used for carrying passengers for hire, must obtain a licence from us".

The spokesman declined to comment on whether any other organisation licensed the Dorset Belle and referred all enquiries to Dorset Police. The force has declined to comment on its investigation into the Dorset Belle and refused to say it if was involved.

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A police officer looks out over Bournemouth beach, two days after the fatal incident (Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)A police officer looks out over Bournemouth beach, two days after the fatal incident (Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)
A police officer looks out over Bournemouth beach, two days after the fatal incident (Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire) | Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

However, a father of one of the teenage survivors told MailOnline he thought they had been caught in a rip tide. "We've seen stuff about boats and jet skis, but it wasn't like that. She was just swimming in the sea with her friends when the rip tide took them out," he said.

"She was lucky to get pulled out by the coastguard and one of her friends was rescued by a paddleboarder," he continued. His 18-year-old daughter had attended college with the teenage boy who had died, he said.

Other families at the beach at the time also told the Mail they had heard announcements about a "dangerous riptide" at around 4pm.

Bournemouth officials call for safety review

A Bournemouth MP has called for a safety review following the deaths, and called on police to clarify the circumstances to put an end to the “wild speculation”.

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Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP for Bournemouth East, told PA: “There needs to be a review, the police are conducting their investigation, there needs to be a review of the circumstances to see whether any safety measures and protocols need to be upgraded to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future.

“I encourage Dorset Police to clarify the general circumstances of this tragic accident to avoid further wild speculation and uncertainty for parents who may be cautious about going to any part of the beach, unclear of exactly what happened in this terrible incident.”

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council leader Councillor Vicky Slade has said she will be discussing safety at the pier with local MP Conor Burns on Friday. There was “no evidence" to suggest any passenger boat rules had been breached, she added.

“We are confident with our partners that any lessons that need to be learned in the future will be learned," she said.

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