Language barrier led to drowning tragedy

A 15-year-old boy was swept to his death at Wells beach because he and his family could not read signs warning of deadly currents, Norfolk's coroner said.

A 15-year-old boy was swept to his death at Wells beach because he and his family could not read signs warning of deadly currents, Norfolk's coroner said.

On July 8 Anadarajan Neelprasantha, known as Neil, and a friend were playing in the channel which links Wells harbour to the sea when the tide turned and the boys were dragged out to sea at speeds up to five mph.

Every year up to 20,000 Sri Lanka Tamils make a pilgrimage to the shrine at Little Walsingham, and about 2,000 people spend the rest of the day at Wells beach.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, Norfolk's coroner, William Armstrong, called for warning signs to be written in Tamil to prevent any further “appalling tragic accidents”. He also said Tamil language information should be given to all pilgrims at the church.

Neil's step-father, Theiventhiram Balasupraminant, said he did not remember seeing any warning signs. “If we had seen warning signs we would not have let him in the water.”

Neil's friend, Krishnan Siavanthan, 11, told the inquest at the Assembly House, Norwich: “I was playing in the channel with Neil. I told him not to swim out further and stay close to the shore. But he went out further and then we both got stuck and the water became deeper and went over my head.”

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Iyampillai Vasanthakumar rushed into the sea and rescued Krishnan, but he was unable to reach Neil, who was found dead in the sea by a helicopter crew at 5.47pm.

Neil was treated in the helicopter as it hovered 100ft above the beach before he was taken to the Norfolk and Norwich hospital. He was pronounced dead on arrival and a post mortem found he died as a result of drowning.

Robert Smith, Wells Harbour Master, told the inquest the boys “were in the most dangerous area. There is a swimming area on the beach but it is 800 metres away from where the boys were.

“It was the day after the first spring tide, when the tide has the greatest range and moves the fastest. The tide would have been going out at speeds of three knots, or five mph.”

Mr Armstrong said: “It is clear Neil was a happy and healthy youngest doing well at school, this was an appallingly tragic accident.

“There were a lot of people on the beach that afternoon, most of whom would not have been familiar with the perils of the sea on the North Norfolk coast.

“It is important that lessons are learned from Neil's death. It is important consideration is given to what extra safety measure can be put in place when it is known in advance that a large number of people will be coming to the beach, a substantial proportion of whom do not have a full understanding of English.

“Signs should be provided written in Tamil so people are clearly aware of hazards, and advance information should be provided to pilgrims who have the intention of coming to the beach.”

Mr Smith said a meeting of all stakeholders will be held in two weeks and they would take on board the coroner's recommendations.

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