AN INQUEST should examine whether Rother District Council could be held responsible for the deaths of five men at Camber Sands last summer, a lawyer for their families has said.
Patrick Roche said the hearing should look at whether the local authority ‘could or should’ have done more given the history of the beach near Rye, East Sussex.
At a pre-inquest review in Hastings, Mr Roche said one death occurred there in 2015, followed by two more in July last year, but no remedial measures came in until after the five further deaths a month later.
Mr Roche said: “This is very much a case where the court will have to examine whether the local authority is to blame for these deaths.”
Last month the council agreed to allocate £51,000 to bring in lifeguards at Camber. They will be stationed at the beach from the late May bank holiday until the end of the summer holidays.
Council officials have said the beach, which is three miles long and very wide when the tide is out, can never be completely risk-free.
Speaking about the importance for the families to obtain answers, the East Sussex senior coroner Alan Craze said: “They are at the heart of this inquest. What we are doing is for them to -understand what has happened.”
He revealed that a letter had been received from a ‘thoroughly disaffected’ former employee of the council, who claimed that in 2007 contracts had been changed, a rescue boat was sold and life-saving employees had their employment discontinued.
Mr Craze said he would not call the letter writer to the inquest as his evidence was by now ‘peripheral’, but added: “It does spark me to inquire into the history.”
The coroner also said he would defer a decision on whether to hold the inquest with a jury or not. He set the date for the full inquest for June 26 at Muriel Matters House in Hastings.