Two teenagers who died in the Bournemouth beach tragedy drowned in a suspected riptide, their inquests revealed today.
Sunnah Khan, 12, and Joe Abbess, 17, were swimming in the sea on May 31 next to Bournemouth Pier when they and eight others got into difficulty in the water.
Sunnah, who was visiting the beach with her family, and Joe were recovered from the sea and desperate attempts to resuscitate them were made by lifeguards and paramedics on the sand.
They were both air lifted to hospital but were declared dead on May 31.
In a hearing to open the inquest proceedings at Bournemouth Town Hall, 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.
The finding raising questions about Dorset Police’s initial statement which said Sunnah and Joe suffered ‘critical injuries’.
That coupled with the fact the police arrested a man who had been ‘on the water’ at the time for manslaughter and the Dorset Belle being impounded led to speculation about what could be behind the tragedy.
Sunnah Khan, 12, from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, died after being pulled under the water near Bournemouth pier
The teenage boy who died while swimming off Bournemouth Beach was named on Sunday as Joe Abbess
Initial post mortem examinations revealed the provisional cause of death for both of them was drowning.
Police are investigating whether the prop wash from the Dorset Belle pleasure cruiser boat may have contributed to the dangerous conditions, as has been suggested by the local MP.
The inquests into the deaths of Sunnah, from High Wycombe, Bucks, and Joe, from Southampton, were formally opened and adjourned by the Bournemouth coroner today.
Nicola Muller, the coroner’s assistant, confirmed reports of a sudden riptide in the sea at the time of the tragedy.
She said in relation to Joe: ‘Emergency services were contacted by members of the public following reports that swimmers had come into difficulty in the water following the suggestion they had been caught in a riptide.
‘He was transferred to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital and despite ongoing treatment he was confirmed dead at the hospital.
‘Joe was formally identified by DC Hannah Webster via a photo from family.
Sunnah’s mother Stephanie Williams, 32 (pictured with her daughter) says she has received little clarity over her death
An air ambulance takes off from Bournemouth beach after two children died on Wednesday, May 31
Police have impounded a 78ft pleasure boat, the Dorset Belle (pictured), following the tragedy, but have said they are keeping an open mind about what happened
‘A post mortem was conducted on the 2nd June by Dr (Basil) Purdue. He confirmed a provisional cause of death as 1a drowning. Samples were retained for further examination.’
Ms Muller said that the body of Sunnah, from High Wycombe, Bucks, was identified by her father.
She said: ‘She was a school child at the time of her death. The brief circumstances surrounding her death are that emergency services were contacted by members of the public following reports that swimmers had come into difficulty in the water following suggestions they had been caught in a riptide.
‘She was treated by paramedics at the scene and transferred to Poole General Hospital. She was confirmed deceased at the hospital.
‘She was identified by her father Mr Khan. A post mortem was carried out by Dr Purdue who gave a provisional cause of death as 1a drowning.’
Rachael Griffin, the Dorset coroner, said the inquest proceedings were restricted while there was an ongoing police investigation.
She said: ‘In respect of the deaths of Joe and Sunnah there is an ongoing police investigation. I have already completed the appropriate paperwork and released Joe and Sunnah for the purposes of their funerals.
‘In relation to that ongoing investigation I am unable to make any progress. It is very important that people do not speculate on the circumstances concerning Joe and Sunnah’s deaths and allow the police investigation to proceed.’
She added: ‘My thoughts are very much with them (the families) at this difficult time following this tragedy. My thoughts are with those who attended or witnessed the traumatic events.’
The inquests were adjourned until September 18.
The devastated family of Joe have described him as a ‘wonderful son and brother’ and that they were ‘incredibly proud of the fabulous young man he was’.
They described the 17-year-old trainee chef as ‘kind, generous, loving, caring, hardworking and funny’.
Sunnah’s mum, Stephanie Williams, made a tribute describing her daughter as ‘so well loved and well liked’.
The 32-year-old said: ‘No parent should ever have to go through what her dad and I are going through.’
Dorset Police are investigating the weather, wind conditions and state of the water at the time of the tragedy.
They said that the pleasure boat that was in the area at the time was just one of several lines of inquiry they were exploring.
Mystery still surrounds the death of 12-year-old Sunnah Khan, from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
A second air ambulance takes off from the beach after the half-term tragedy on June 1
One man was pulled from the water and had to be given CPR on the beach by lifeguards before being taken away by air ambulance
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.
‘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.’
The man aged in his 40s previously arrested for manslaughter has been released under police investigation.