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Seven Deaths At Camber Sands Ruled Death By Misadventure
Last summer five friends died on the same day at Camber Sands, now their deaths, along with two others just a month before, have been ruled as misadventure.
The inquest in to the seven deaths at Camber Sands, in Rye East Sussex heard evidence for a week at the coroners court in Hastings.
The evidence was about five friends who died at the beach after being seen playing volleyball in the sea last August. Another two men died a month before at the same stretch and all seven deaths at the beach last year have been ruled as misadventure by the coroner.
The first deaths happened on July 24th 2016 when 36-year-old Mphit Dupar tried to reach Brazilian 19-year-old Gustavo Silva Da Cruz after he got into difficulty, sadly both men died.
Exactly a month later, five friends all from London of Sri Lankan Origin aged between 18 and 27 drowned. Consultant forensic pathologist Dr Brett Lockyer recorded a cause of death of immersion (drowning) for all five victim.
Nine deaths happened at Camber in four years from 2012, including the seven last summer. Lifeguards were not deployed until after the five deaths last August despite recommendations from the RNLI to employ then three years earlier, however the Senior Coroner Alan Craze said it was 'not known' whether deploying lifeguards would have prevented the deaths.
Mr Craze said: 'The RNLI had recommended, amongst other measures, deploying lifeguards at the beach in 2013 but this had not happened. Of course, it is not known whether such a step would have prevented the deaths, but it has now been implemented.'
He also noted that he will be sending off a prevention of future deaths letter highlighting concerns including the control of risk assessments.
The inquest had heard that there was no legal requirement for Rother District Council to follow through with recommendations contained in risk assessments by the RNLI.
Five friends who died: Kenugen Saththiyanathan, 18, known as Ken, and his brother Kobikanthan Saththiyanathan, 22, known as Kobi, both of Normandy Way, Erith, south-east London, and their friends Nitharsan Ravi, 22, of Admaston Road, Plumstead, south-east London, Inthushan Sriskantharasa, 23, of Chadwell Road, Grays, Essex, and Gurushanth Srithavarajah, 27, of Elsa Road, Welling, south-east London.
The father, of Ken and Kobi Nathan, who died said in a statement to the inquest that they both had 'good swimming ability' and their Sri Lankan Village was surrounded by three big rivers and his sons swam almost every weekend, including at a Hindu temple, before they came to the UK when the brothers were aged 10 and 14 in July 2008.
Mr Saththiyanathan, who arrived in the UK earlier than the boys in 1999, went on:
'As a family, we went to the beaches in the UK nearly every summer and the boys went without us sometimes.' and explained that Kobi, who was on a gap year, loved Camber Sands and had visited three times in 2016 before he died.
Their mother, Jegaleela Saththiyanathan said both were 'physically fit' with no physical conditions, adding that they played sport at a district level in Sri Lanka.
The father of Nitharsan Ravi, another man who died, said in a statement that his 'fit and healthy' son, a University of Brighton aeronautical engineering student, was a 'competent swimmer' who could swim 100m easily and used to go on 'swimming trips'. He also said they used to go to beaches every year, including Margate and the Isle of Wight.
The inquest heard the day before he died, Mr Ravi was admitted to hospital with a head injury after allegedly being assaulted as he dispersed a group of teenagers from his family's shop four days earlier.
He reported feeling dizzy and confused but a CT scan found no abnormalities and he was discharged with advice to return if his symptoms persisted.
Another man who died was Inthushan Sriskantharasa. He was a Tesco shift manager who fled the conflict in Sri Lanka where he witnessed his mother die in a shelling in 2009. His father died from a brain haemorrhage in 2002. He was on a day off from work on the day he died at Camber alongside his friends.
His Uncle, Sivapragasan Thavarasa said he had seen him swimming in the sea, describing him as a 'very able swimmer'.
He had been to Camber previously and, although had not undergone swimming training, he had been informally tutored by his Sri Lankan elders.
The fifth friend who died was Gurushanth Srithavarajah. The inquest heard he was a student and part-time Tesco shop assistant who spent the first 12 years of his life living near the sea in Sri Lanka.
His sister Kabinuja Srithavarajah said he was a competent swimmer adding:
'The five friends were used to packing up and driving to the coast on a regular basis, they normally decided where they were going when they met up.'
Although rip currents were not believed responsible, Camber has sandbars that can catch people out when the tide comes in rapidly, sometimes causing people to wade through water to reach shore, the inquest heard.
Oceanographer Dr Simon Boxall believed the five men got into trouble after heading out to a sandbar to play ball a significant distance out at sea, and then got caught out.
Amid a fast incoming tide, it appeared the men may have panicked trying to help one of their friends and then got into trouble as they tried to get back to shore.
Dr Boxall, a senior lecturer at the University of Southampton, said there also would have been strong currents which would have had a significant impact even on a strong swimmer.
As the men were far out at sea, he said he doubted whether anyone would have seen them from shore, particularly with glare facing people looking out to the water.
Beach-goer, Stephen Deacon, told the inquest he felt 'unnerved' by the underwater sea conditions on the day the five friends drowned at the beach, which can attract up to 30,000 visitors peak season.
The surface of the sea appeared calm but underwater, the strong current pushed him in and out as he pulled a dinghy with three children inside at sea, he said.
Mr Deacon said he would not have gone to the beach had he known what the conditions would be like.
He said: 'It made me feel uncomfortable. It was pushing me in and out.
'It was like I couldn't control my own body. The top seemed calm but below it was different.'
He added there were 'lots of pockets of shallow and deep holes', and went on: 'You couldn't tell when these pockets would appear.'
Mr Deacon said he saw no warning notices about the nature of the sands, and no flag flying.The only warning he saw was about the possibility of jellyfish.
Tristan Cawte, manager of the Camber Kitesurf Centre, said the sandbars were not dangerous on their own but people, particularly weak swimmers, could quickly find themselves waist or shoulder deep in water.
He said: 'On a busy weekend, as the tide comes in and people are sun-bathing on a sandbar, they can be completely unaware that water is coming in.
'And so there can be 20 or 30 people on a sandbar and then they have to wade through water to get back onto the beach.'
On the day of the five deaths, Mr Cawte said the water looked 'about as safe and invitinf' as you would see at Camber without considering the tide and water movement.
Amy Wood was surfing the day the five friends died.
Prior to the seven deaths last summer, Camber had no lifeguards. Instead, the area was manned by beach patrol staff whose tasks included reuniting lost children with their parents and dealing with lost property.
The RNLI also offered to provide lifeguards at Camber in 2009.
In 2015, beach-goer Thatchayiny Segar drowned at Camber but lifeguards were not introduced until after the seven men, including the five friends, drowned last summer.
Dr Anthony Leonard, executive director at Rother District Council, defended the decision not to employ lifeguards following the 2013 risk assessment.
He said the authority's decision had to be balanced against other factors known at the time and that, with statutory obligations to fund, it did not have a 'bottomless pit' of money.
And up until 2012, Camber had relatively few incidents since Rother District Council took over responsibility for the beach in 1974, Dr Leonard added.
The inquest also heard that following the deaths of Mr Dupar and Mr Da Cruz last July, Rother District Council asked the RNLI to provide lifeguards but the charity was unable to spare resources at such short notice at the height of the summer season.
Following calls for improved safety, Rother District Council agreed in February this year to allocate #51,000 in its 2017/18 budget for seasonal lifeguard cover this summer at Camber.
Robert Cass, a coastal officer, said there had been a rise in the level of naivety about personal safety among beach-goers at Camber in recent years amid a changing demographic he also spoke of the chaos as news spread of bodies found in the sea last August.
He said: 'There were tides, about 25,000 people, scenes of trauma and tragedy, mums were losing their children. It was a worst case scenario.'
Mr Cass said it was important for people to be educated about beach safety before they arrive, and pointed to the value of having an electronic matrix sign at Camber urging people not to go into the sea if they cannot swim.
But he also said pre-emptive measures might not prevent another tragedy at Camber, which is three miles (4.8km) long and nearly half-a-mile (700m) wide at low tide.
Professor David Ball, professor of risk management at Middlesex University, said there was a one in a million risk of drowning and that Camber was a very safe beach.
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