Camber Sands deaths: Council’s role ‘should be examined’ as inquest date set

The five friends who died at Camber Sands in August. (Clockwise from top left) Inthushan Sriskantharasa, brothers Kobinathan and Kenugen Saththiyanathan, Kurushanth Srithavarajah and Nitharshan Ravi SUS-170314-171912001
The five friends who died at Camber Sands in August. (Clockwise from top left) Inthushan Sriskantharasa, brothers Kobinathan and Kenugen Saththiyanathan, Kurushanth Srithavarajah and Nitharshan Ravi SUS-170314-171912001

The families of the five friends who died at Camber Sands want to know if the council ‘could or should have done more’, a pre-inquest hearing heard today (Tuesday, March 14).

The full inquest into the deaths in August was delayed further because an independent safety report on the beach has not been conducted yet but the coroner suggested the week commencing June 26.

The air ambulance at Camber Sands when five friends died in August. Photo: Twitter

The air ambulance at Camber Sands when five friends died in August. Photo: Twitter

The coroner said it would be ‘beneficial’ if the inquest took place before the summer season starts so any recommendations to be implemented, the second pre-inquest review at Muriel Matters House, Hastings, heard.

Four previous deaths in 2012, 2015 and July, 2016, did not encourage Rother District Council to make any changes to its provisions before the deaths in August and the inquest must examine whether the local authority is to blame, the victims’ families’ lawyer Patrick Roche said.

No decision was made on whether a jury should be involved as the hearing was adjourned to allow for a survey of Camber Sands to take place, despite one already being done by Rother District Council.

The families of brothers Kenugen and Kobikanthan Saththiyanathan, Nitharsan Ravi, Inthushan Sriskantharaja and Kurushanth Srithavarajah, want a jury be involved as they would be better placed to lay blame for what happened and it would instil greater public confidence.

It’s essential to have an expert’s report that deals with what is necessary to protect people and that clearly has an impact on potential decisions as to whether the council was at fault.

Patrick Roche, solicitor for the bereaved families

The five friends, all from London and aged between 18 and 27, were on a day trip to the popular beach when they died after getting into difficulty in the sea.

“[Whether or not a jury is involved] shouldn’t be determined at this stage as we can’t draw a clear line between causation in relation to the deaths of the six people who’s families I represent, and future measures to protect other people,” Mr Roche said.

“First of all when we get a report dealing with what could be done now it’s inevitable that’s the other side of the coin to what could have been done.

“There may be indications as to what was in the knowledge of the could at that particular time.

“Certainly we would say, as was said at the last hearing, that it’s essential to have an expert’s report that deals with what is necessary to protect people and that clearly has an impact on potential decisions as to whether the council was at fault.”

But lawyers for the council and RNLI argue a jury is unnecessary as there are not enough advantages for one and it would slow the process down.

Coroner Alan Craze wished to use experts at Plymouth University to conduct a survey of the beach, but Rother had already asked them to do so.

Mr Craze was frustrated the university had not told him about this until March 8 - despite asking them in December - but he has others in mind.

Both sets of solicitors were happy for the university’s report to be used as it was not considered controversial but the coroner wanted more independence.

Mr Craze said he wants to get expert advise on the oceanography and makeup of the beach, as well as any rick amelioration, which would be done by separate bodies.

Meanwhile the RNLI was asked to compile a report on the beach as ‘experts’ on beach safety and signage.

The coroner went through the 45 witnesses involved in the case and whether they would be called to the inquest or have their statements read.

These included beach visitors who found bodies or helped with the resuscitations, plus beach patrollers and police officers.

The full inquest is due to start on Monday, June 26, at Muriel Matters House with it expected to take less than a week if there is no jury but possibly two weeks if there is.

Brazilian Gustavo Silva Da Cruz, 19, and Mohit Dupar, 36, from Hayes, west London, also died while swimming at Camber Sands in July last year.

Mr Dupar died in hospital four days later after trying to rescue the teenager, while his son was in a coma for four months.

In February, Rother allocated £51,000 for lifeguards at Camber from the last May bank holiday to the end of the summer holidays, after more than 8,000 people signed a petition calling for lifeguards.

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