‘Double tragedy’: Death of two friends at Peacehaven cliffs

Two friends died at Peacehaven cliffs after a ‘tragic and unexpected’ event took place earlier this year, an Eastbourne inquest heard.

Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 10:56 am

Donna Kitchener-Pope, 40 of Cinque Foil in Peacehaven, and Tracy Morgan, 49 of Vernon Avenue in Peacehaven, died at Rushey Hill Caravan Park after falling from the cliff edge on May 18 this year, an inquest heard.

An inquest at Eastbourne Town Hall on Wednesday (December 2), heard the pair were great friends and coroner James Healy-Pratt said they were ‘enjoying a sunset drink’ to celebrate seeing each other again.

The inquest heard how the friends were seen by two separate witnesses on the evening of May 17.

Photo by Jon Rigby

John Greene saw the women walking and said ‘they seemed in good spirits’ and ‘not intoxicated’. Then a cyclist, Louis Tant, saw the women sitting by the cliff edge with a bag, and when he returned a short time later to the same spot only the bag was there.

Blood tests showed afterwards that the women had high levels of alcohol in their systems, the inquest heard.

Ms Kitchener-Pope, a care assistant, had a daughter with her ex-partner, Katherine Kitchener-Pope, and was living in a flat alone.

Her GP, Dr Ruth Dare, told the inquest she struggled with anxiety and depression and presented herself to A&E after taking an overdose in 2017, but she always said she would never act on suicidal thoughts due to her love for her daughter.

She had plans for the future, as she was in a long-term relationship with Lindsay Bassett since 2018 and they were looking forward to moving in together, the inquest heard. As well as this, her sister, Sara Guy said Ms Kitchener-Pope had improved her financial situation by clearing her debts.

Valeria Harvey, a friend of Ms Kitchener-Pope, said, “She was happy. She had plans after lockdown, she’d just passed her exams and her finances were improving – everything was coming together.”

Ms Morgan, a nurse, was a single mum with a daughter and had a history of anxiety and depression. Upon psychological assessment in February this year, she was showing improvements according to her GP, Dr WPU Ranawaka.

Zoe Bateman, Ms Morgan’s sister, said, “She was unique and quirky. She loved living by the sea. She was deeply independent and had just completed her college course with good results.”

Katherine Charlton, Ms Morgan’s counsellor from November 2019 to February this year, said the counselling was a positive experience for Ms Morgan, and by the end of their sessions together her scores were showing no signs of depression or anxiety.

She said, “Tracy did extremely well, she was determined and had no suicidal ideation. She was always future planning, wanting to work towards things.”

On May 14 Ms Charlton got a text message from Ms Morgan which she said was ‘optimistic’ and talked of plans for the future that she was looking forward to.

From a number of statements read at the inquest, friends and family all argued the women ‘would never have taken their own life’ due to the loved ones they would have left behind and plans for the future.

Ms Harvey said, “I am convinced Donna wouldn’t have taken her own life - she lived for her daughter.”

Equally, Ms Bateman said, “Tracy wouldn’t have wanted to leave her daughter or her family. We are devastated by this tragic accident.”

The inquest heard their deaths were due to multiple injuries with alcohol toxicity.

East Sussex coroner James Healy-Pratt ruled that the women died from misadventure.

He said the pair were unsteady on their feet and this factor combined with their alcohol levels and the position they were in on the cliff edge resulted in a ‘tragic and unexpected’ event.