Riptide suspected in Bournemouth beach drowning of girl and teenage boy

A riptide is believed to have caused the tragic drowning of a 17-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl off Bournemouth beach, according to an inquest. Joe Abbess from Southampton and Sunnah Khan from Buckinghamshire both passed away in hospital following the incident. The inquest held at Dorset Coroner’s Court suggested that a riptide may have led to the pair’s drowning. Dorset Police are keeping an open mind about the circumstances leading to their deaths, considering factors such as weather conditions and the state of the water.

Riptides are strong currents running out to sea that can quickly drag people and objects away from the shallows of the shoreline and out to deeper water. They can be difficult to spot and are a major cause of accidental drowning on beaches worldwide, according to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). Rip currents are often harmless, but around large headlands or piers – like Bournemouth Pier – they can be powerful. They tend to flow at 1-2mph but can reach 4-5mph, which is faster than an Olympic swimmer, the RNLI explained.

In a hearing to open the inquest proceedings at Bournemouth Town Hall, Dorset coroner’s officer Nicola Muller said post-mortem examinations identified drowning as the cause of the deaths. “The brief circumstances are that emergency services were contacted by members of the public… following suggestion they had been caught in a riptide,” she said.

The inquest in Bournemouth was opened and adjourned for a pre-inquest review hearing on 18 September. Joe’s family described him as “a fabulous young man”, while Sunnah’s mother Stephanie Williams has posted on Twitter to pay tribute to her “beautiful daughter”. Ms Williams tweeted: “No parent should ever have to go through what her dad and I are going through. We love you so much baby girl.”

The incident involved 10 swimmers on a day when the beach was packed during half-term. The Dorset Belle sightseeing boat was impounded by Dorset Police in the immediate aftermath, but the force said this was “just one of several lines of inquiry”.

Det Ch Supt Neil Corrigan said: “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.”

Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP for Bournemouth East, said he believed police should have released more information that would have helped “place into context the scale of this major incident”. “The absence of clarity led to really wild speculation on social media,” he added. “Provide clarity early on – just so people can have an assurance of mind on what roughly happened.”

David Sidwick, Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, said: “It is the family of Sunnah Khan and Joe Abbess who have to be first in our thoughts both with our condolences and also from the point of view of whatever information comes forth. This is a complex investigation – it includes a number of agencies.”

Mr Sidwick added: “They are working together as fast as they can to find out what happened on that day and I truly believe that they need to be given the time and space to do that fully, thoroughly, professionally without hindrance.”

The force said none of the swimmers were involved in any collision or contact with any vessel in the water. It has appealed for witnesses and urged people to send it any photographic footage. A man in his 40s, who was “on the water” at the time, was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter. He has since been released while inquiries continue.

City College Southampton, where Mr Abbess was studying catering, said teachers were “in tears” over his death. Curriculum manager Joanne Pengelly said the teenager was a “rare gem… totally reliable, always happy [and] really supportive in the department”.

World News

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Jamie Cartwright

Jamie is a keen traveler, writer, and (English) teacher. A few years after finishing school in the East Mids, UK, he went traveling around South America and Asia. Several teaching and writing jobs, he found himself at The Thaiger where he mostly covers international news and events.