Police end Bournemouth beach death tragedy probe after cause of drownings established


Police have ended their investigation into the deaths of two young swimmers off Bournemouth beach in May, after establishing that dangerous sea conditions caused the tragic downings.

No criminal offences were committed in relation to the deaths, Dorset Police said on Friday (July 14). A man in his 40s who was initially arrested on suspicion of manslaughter will face no further action.

Joe Abbess, 17, and Sunnah Khan, 12, drowned - and eight other people were treated by paramedics - after they were suspected to have been caught in a riptide next to the pier at the Dorset seaside resort on May 31.

Dorset Police impounded the pleasure cruiser Dorset Belle at its berth in Poole Harbour following the fatal incident. But after consulting an expert as part of its investigation, the force has made the “evidence-based decision” that the movement of the Dorset Belle did not contribute to creating dangerous sea conditions during the incident.

Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Corrigan said: “On Wednesday May 31 2023 at about 3.50pm several people swimming in the sea got into difficulty resulting in the rescue of 11 people by the RNLI lifeguards. During this incident, which occurred approximately 100 metres to the east of the pier and in the zone between the RNLI flags, Joe and Sunnah tragically drowned.

"During the emergency response that followed information was given to police which indicated that the movement of a boat – the Dorset Belle – immediately before the incident occurred could have contributed toward creating dangerous sea conditions. Witnesses suggested that there had been similar issues with the vessel having created such problems previously.”

Police launched an investigation, examined the boat and looked into the actions of its operator, later releasing the vessel when the probe ended. Mr Corrigan said the force instructed an expert to review the material they had gathered to help them “properly understand whether the boat could have been a contributing factor”.

“It was simply not possible to make a decision in this case without expert advice,” he added. “The instructed expert needed time to review the evidential material and also to consider the prevailing tide and meteorological conditions at the time alongside the topography of the shoreline at the location.

“Also, a large number of witnesses have been spoken to and several sources of CCTV and mobile phone footage were examined. As a result of all of the evidence available, we are now able to confirm that we do not believe that the movement of the Dorset Belle contributed to the incident. We have worked with the agencies that lead on beach safety from the outset of this investigation.”

Dorset Police said it will work with the coroner for Dorset to provide a report covering the incident and investigation. It stressed it is for the coroner to make final findings regarding the causes during inquest proceedings.

Mr Corrigan added: “My thoughts remain with the families of Sunnah Khan and Joe Abbess.”

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