Father drowned in sea when there was no official lifeguard cover because of pandemic, inquest hears

The RNLI delayed deploying beach attendants at Treyarnon Bay, near Padstow, in 2020 because of the Covid outbreak
The RNLI delayed deploying beach attendants at Treyarnon Bay, near Padstow, in 2020 because of the Covid outbreak - AL HEDDERLY/MOMENT OPEN

A father drowned in the sea during lockdown when there was no official lifeguard cover, an inquest heard on Monday.

Michael Pender, 63, drowned off Treyarnon Bay, near Padstow, on a bank holiday Monday in May 2020.

He was one of three people who died off the Cornish coast between May and August 2020, the first day of the week-long inquest at Cornwall coroners’ court in Truro heard.

The court heard how there were no lifeguards working at the time of the deaths because the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) had delayed deploying the lifesavers because of the pandemic.

As Mr Pender struggled in the water, an off-duty lifeguard who was around the beach risked his own life to paddle out to the father-of-two, but was unable to save his life.

Beach risk assessments

Mr Pender’s daughters told the inquest they wanted to find out what beach risk assessments were in place, what the lifeguard position was on that day and how that cover would have been outside the pandemic.

The sisters said in a statement to senior Cornwall coroner Andrew Cox that they hope “the truth will come to light” so they can get the “closure we so desperately need”.

Mr Pender’s partner, Jacqueline Hargreaves, said he was a strong swimmer and fit man who was a regular visitor to the bay and knew about the “very difficult currents”.

She said there were strong currents and rip tides and that there had been a number of deaths there in previous years of which Mr Pender, who lived in nearby St Merryn, was aware.

But she said that on that day, there were no warning flags at the water’s edge. Mr Pender died after being swept out to sea under a wave.

Rescue operation

Edward Hanwell, an off-duty lifeguard, quickly reacted and paddled out into the water as a full-scale rescue operation was launched with the Padstow lifeboat and a coastguard helicopter.

Ms Hargreaves claimed that if lifeguards had been on official duty they might have been able to save Mr Pender, and might have erected red warning flags or even closed the beach because of the conditions.

Police said the incident happened at the height of the national lockdown but the day in question was hot and sunny and would have attracted a large number of people to the coast.

They added that there were signs saying that there were no lifeguards on duty and not to enter the water.

Det Con Andrew Petherick said the RNLI had delayed its deployment of lifeguards but had published a warning to people to be extremely cautious going into the sea.

‘The water was rising’

Jan Klempar, 30, from Walsall, drowned at Porthcurno beach, a sandy cove in Cornwall, in June 2020.

Mr Cox said Czech national Mr Klempar, a butcher who lived in Walsall, died as a result of drowning on what was his first trip to the seaside in his life.

His partner, Ilona Adiova, said: “There was no Baywatch or [life] guard present. At the time, the water was rising and other people had to help us climb on to the rocks.”

But surfer Luke Roberts said there was a sign by the beach saying “do not swim, no lifeguards present and strong rip currents”.

He said the tide was high and that the water was choppy and added: “Had there been a lifeguard on duty that day, there may have been a different outcome.

“Porthcurno is a very dangerous beach. It is deceiving. Rip currents drag you out to the middle of the bay.”

The third victim, Paul Mullen, from Hertfordshire, died in August 2020 at Gunwalloe, a coastal civil parish in Cornwall.

Mr Cox said: “The three deaths happened at different times on different beaches in 2020. However, they all arose out of a common occurrence, namely on beaches in Cornwall that prior to Covid ordinarily would have been lifeguarded.

“At the time of the respective incidents, they did not have lifeguards on them. How that has arisen is the subject of investigations in the course of the week.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.