Bournemouth beach tragedy: Everything we know as boats from pier suspended

Bournemouth beach tragedy: Everything we know as boats from pier suspended

A 17-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl died after getting into difficulty in the water off the Bournemouth coast on Wednesday afternoon, in an incident that left eight others injured.

A man in his 40s, who was “on the water” at the time, was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter following the incident, but was later released under investigation by police.

Here’s everything we know so far:

Boats off Bournemouth Pier have been suspended

  • All boat operations have been suspended off Bournemouth pier following the death of the two young swimmers, the local authority announced on Tuesday

  • A BCP (Bournemouth Christchurch Poole) Council spokesman said boat operations had been halted “as a precaution, pending a conclusion to the police investigation”.

    “We are aware the investigation is complex and will consult with Dorset Police when the investigation is complete,” they added

  • Dorset Police has impounded a pleasure cruiser named Dorset Belle at its berth in Poole Harbour following the fatal incident

  • The force said on Tuesday is continuing to investigate the circumstances involving the 49-year-old boat, which has a capacity of 80 passengers, as well as the weather and sea conditions at the time of the incident

An aerial view of Bournemouth Pier and beach (Getty Images)
An aerial view of Bournemouth Pier and beach (Getty Images)

Victims died by drowning, and could have been caught in riptide

  • Sunnah Khan, 12, and Joe Abbess, 17, could have been caught in a riptide, a coroner’s assistant said on Monday as their inquests were opened

  • “The brief circumstances are that emergency services were contacted by members of the public following swimmers had come into difficulty in the water, following suggestion they had been caught in a riptide,” said Dorset coroner’s officer Nicola Muller

  • She added that post mortems have concluded drowning to be the cause of their deaths

  • Rachael Griffin, senior coroner for Dorset, said: “I wish to take this opportunity to remind all those who enter the sea or open water to be aware of the powers of the water and the risks of swimming in open water.”

  • Ms Griffin adjourned the hearing, and scheduled a pre-inquest review for September 18

  • Police have already confirmed the two youngsters who died had not jumped from the pier, been hit by a jet-ski, or had any “physical contact” with a vessel

Tributes have been paid to the two young people who died

  • Joe Abbess, a trainee chef from Southampton, has been described by his family as a “fabulous young man”. The 17-year-old was “kind and generous, loving and caring, hardworking and funny”, according to a family statement issued by Dorset Police

  • Mr Abbess’ teachers and friends at City College Southampton, where he was studying hospitality, remember him as an “exceptional student” and a “brilliant” trainee chef who dreamed of owning a restaurant

  • A spokesperson for Bourne End Academy, where Sunnah Khan was a pupil, said she had a “bold and happy personality which resonated throughout the school community.”

    “Her energetic character and fierce sense of loyalty meant that she had built strong and positive relationships with her peers and teachers,” they said. “She will be enormously missed.”

  • Hundreds of mourners gathered at High Wycombe Mosque to pay tribute to Miss Khan, who lived in the Buckinghamshire town

Joe Abbess, 17, and Sunnah Khan, 12 (Handout)
Joe Abbess, 17, and Sunnah Khan, 12 (Handout)

What we know about how the tragedy unfolded

  • Dorset Police was called by the ambulance service shortly after 4.30pm on Wednesday, requesting assistance on the beach near Bournemouth Pier, amid reports a number of people were “in trouble”

  • A total of 10 people were recovered from the water

  • As well as the two fatalities, a further eight people were treated by paramedics for “none-life-threatening” injuries

A man was arrested and later released

  • A man in his 40s, who was “on the water” at the time of the incident, was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of manslaughter. Police confirmed on Thursday evening he has now been released under investigation

The pleasure boat ‘Dorset Belle’ at Cobb's Quay Marina in Poole (Getty Images)
The pleasure boat ‘Dorset Belle’ at Cobb's Quay Marina in Poole (Getty Images)

A boat has been impounded

  • A sightseeing boat named the Dorset Belle has been impounded at Poole Harbour by police. On Friday, the 49-year-old sea-going passenger boat remained at anchor at Cobb’s Quay, Poole Harbour, guarded by a police van

  • According to the website Marine Traffic, the Dorset Belle had visited Bournemouth Pier, the scene of the tragic incident, at 4pm, just minutes before the first 999 calls were made. The force has declined to comment on any investigation into the Dorset Belle and refused to say what or if any vessel was involved

  • Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Corrigan says officers are keeping an “open mind around the circumstances” of what happened

    “One of those lines of inquiry has involved the pleasure boat, which was in the area at the time of the incident,” he said. “These inquiries also include examining wind, other weather and general coastal conditions at the time.

    “We are working with experts from partner agencies to understand all of the factors and this will take time to establish.”

Beachgoers rushed to help those involved

  • The popular beach was “very busy” when the incident occurred on Wednesday

  • “A number of people already in the water got into difficulty”, police said at Thursday’s press conference, but none of the swimmers had contact with a boat or other vessel

  • Members of the public leapt into action in a bid to help the people in difficulty, while emergency services launched a major, multi-agency response

  • Student Mackenzie Creech, 18, has told how he attempted to save Miss Khan, 12. He was with his friends on Wednesday when they heard shouts and screams. He told MailOnline: “I just rushed in and scooped her up with someone else. She was face down when I got there and not moving. She didn’t appear to have any injuries but I knew it didn’t look good so I carried her on to the beach. I didn’t know she had died until I saw it on the news.”

Air ambulances at the scene on Wednesday (PA)
Air ambulances at the scene on Wednesday (PA)
  • Lifeguards manning the beach have been praised for their “exceptional” response. Bob Rosa, a top doctor who happened to be on the beach and helped try to resuscitate the 12-year-old girl who later died, wrote on LinkedIn: “Many of the lifeguards on the beach were teenagers themselves and despite their training would not have encountered such a scene, let alone having to resuscitate two children simultaneously whilst actively searching for others in a crowded sea. These young lifeguards did everything asked of them, they didn’t panic, there was no hysteria, they were exceptional and they followed instruction to the letter whilst taking their own initiative.”

  • Dr Rosa is also among beachgoers who have criticised people who allegedly stood by and filmed on their phones as he and others carried out CPR

An investigation is underway

  • Dorset Police has named its investigation into what happened Operation Marble. It is working on the probe alongside the government’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch, and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency

  • Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council is working with the emergency services to assess safety in the water near the pier. Council leader Vikki Slade said: “There are specific rules relating to the buoys in the water but there is no evidence that any of these rules have been breached.”

  • Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP for Bournemouth East, has called for a safety review following the incident and called on police to clarify the circumstances to end “wild speculation and uncertainty”. “There needs to be a review of the circumstances to see whether any safety measures and protocols need to be upgraded to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future,” he said on Friday

  • Police are urging people not to share video of the incident that is circulating online, and ask anyone with footage to share it with the force

Anyone with information is asked to contact Dorset Police at or by calling 101, quoting occurrence number 55230083818.

Alternatively, independent charity Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously online at or by calling Freephone 0800 555 111.