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Relatives of Camber Sands tragedy outraged

Relatives of the victims of Camber Sands tragedy have expressed outrage at the local authority’s blame shifting attitude, The Guardian has reported.

The full text of The Guardian report is as follows:

‘Camber Sands deaths blamed on victims’ ‘culture’ by council

Incident log warned of increasing numbers of ‘non-British visitors’ to beach where seven men died this summer

The council that did not provide lifeguards at Camber Sands beach has blamed drownings over the summer on the limitations of “non-swimming persons of a certain culture”, according to an internal document seen by the Guardian.

Seven men – one of Asian heritage, one Brazilian teenager, and five of Tamil origin – died at the popular seaside resort of Camber Sands in East Sussex in July and August. All of the men were described by family members as capable swimmers.

There is no lifeguard in attendance on the beach, where up to 25,000 people visit on hot days. But an incident log filed by a Rother district council official after the first two men drowned warned that the fact that the beach attracts “predominantly non-British visitors has been an increasing issue”.

Despite the high number of fatalities during the summer the council said it had not yet made a decision about whether to introduce a lifeguard service on Camber Sands next year.

A senior lifeguard manager from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution was on the beach carrying out a safety assessment on 24 August, the day the five men of Tamil origin drowned, the Guardian understands. In 2013 the RNLI carried out a risk assessment recommending that a lifeguard service be introduced at the beach, a recommendation that was not taken up by Rother district council.

Relatives of the five men who drowned on 24 August expressed shock and anger about the comments referring to nationality and culture and about the failure to provide a lifeguard service during the busy summer months.

“I don’t understand why these things are said about nationality and culture,” said Uthayamalar Srithavarajah, whose 27-year-old son Gurushanth was among the dead. “The job of the council is to protect people, not to judge them on appearance.”

Others said the revelations had compounded their grief. They also hit out at inaccurate initial reports in some sections of the media that variously described the men as illegal immigrants trying to swim to the shore, non-swimmers and people unable to speak English. “All this incorrect information about our sons has made our heartbreak so much worse,” said Jegaleela Saththiyanathan, 52, who lost two sons, Kenugen, 18, known as Ken, and Kobikanthan, 22, known as Kobi, in the tragedy.

According to their relatives all seven of the men who drowned could swim, although the council official who wrote the incident log said he was informed when Dupar got into trouble in the sea that he could not swim. Of the five young Tamil men, all of whom had been resident in the UK for several years, three were at university, a fourth was in full-time education and a fifth had secured a university place. The others who died with Srithavarajah and the Saththiyanathan brothers were their friends Nitharsan Ravi, 22, and Inthushan Sriskantharasa, 23. They all lived in London.

The Brazilian teenager Gustavo Cruz and Mohit Dupar, a man of Asian heritage from London, died on 24 July. Dupar lost his life trying to save Cruz.

The RNLI has been in dialogue with Rother district council since 2003 about safety issues, the Guardian understands. A spokesman confirmed that one of the RNLI’s senior lifeguard managers was on the beach on the day the five men drowned. “He was there for an informal visit to view the beach during the summer period as part of our ongoing relationship with the council,” he said.

Mayura Ravi, 17, sister of Nitharsan Ravi, condemned the stereotyped views expressed in the internal council document and inaccurate media reports.

“The boys were studying. All five could swim really well and had no problems with speaking English so these things that have been said are just rubbish,” she said. She added that all had been legally resident in the UK for a number of years and that some of them loved the beach and the sea so much that they went there five or six times a year. Some of the boys had been brought up close to the seashore in Sri Lanka and were used to swimming in the sea.

Jegaleela Saththiyanathan said her two sons and the other young men knew each other well, as did their families. She described them as upstanding individuals who did not drink or smoke or indulge in antisocial behaviour and, as well as loving sports like cricket, did voluntary work to help their community.

The incident log for 24 July 2016, the day the first two bathers drowned, written by a council official, states: “We are again faced with incidents of non-swimming persons of a certain culture that enter the water in great numbers with deadly results. The combination of a beach as shallow as Camber attracting predominantly non-British visitors has been an increasing issue over the last 10 years and the risks that these people create upon their lack of ability in being ‘tempted in’ to such a shallow bay are becoming unsustainable and unfair for us to deal with or carry the burden of responding to.”

The report goes on: “For a non-swimmer to jump into the deep end of Rye swimming bath would be foolish but we are faced with thousands entering an ocean and responding to their actions and inevitable consequences. An incoming tide, sand bars and breeze is a lethal combination for such people of little swimming ability and we are being left with the trauma of responding to the consequences.”

At a pre-inquest review into all seven deaths last month the council official who wrote the incident log gave evidence and talked about the changing demographic of people using the beach and the associated language and educational issues.

“This is something we have to adapt to,” he told East Sussex’s senior coroner Alan Craze. “We are constantly dealing with people’s naiveties and lack of education.”

Gurushanth Srithavarajah’s mother Uthayamalar condemned the lack of lifeguards on the beach that day. “No one from our community will ever go to Camber Sands again,” she said. “But we want to ensure that other members of the public are protected for the future. We want to see lifeguards in place on that beach. Had there been lifeguards there on the day we lost our sons they may still be alive today.”

She added: “No other person should ever have to go through the kind of loss and pain we are experiencing. We should be the last. Irrespective of skin colour, whether people are white, black or Asian, we don’t want to see anyone suffer the way we are suffering.”

At the inquest hearing, Patrick Roche, representing the Tamil families, said that as well as the deaths there had been seven “near-deaths” at Camber.

The coroner is investigating what public safety measures could be introduced at Camber Sands. He said: “The provision of safety for the vast numbers of people that go to Camber is now an extremely important matter, and I owe it to the community as a whole to investigate as far as I conceivably can do.”

The home secretary, Amber Rudd, whose Hastings and Rye constituency includes Camber Sands, said she was “deeply saddened” by the deaths and had visited the beach along with councillors and an RNLI official to establish ways to improve swimmers’ safety. “I am taking a strong interest on this issue of beach safety, and I await to hear the outcome of the inquest next year,” she said in a statement.

In a statement the RNLI said: “The RNLI have been in talks with RDC [Rother district council] since 2003 and has carried out several risk assessments over the years. The most recent assessment was carried out in 2013. As part of this we suggested the RDC consider a series of potential control measures to manage specific hazards. One of these recommendations included considering the option of introducing a seasonal lifeguard service and that a service level assessment should be carried out. At that time, this suggestion was not taken further but the charity has remained in conversation with the council and, following the incident in August in which five young men drowned, the RNLI was able to set up and provide a temporary lifeguard service to cover until 4 September.”

A Rother district council spokesman said: “We continue to look closely at all options for Camber beach and are in discussion with relevant partners. Money has been earmarked in the 2017-18 budget to ensure funding is available to implement the agreed option.” The spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment on other matters before the inquest, which is due to resume early next year.’

Curtesy: The Guardian