Family of fisherman who died in Eastbourne Pier tragedy are angry at police response

The family of a man who died this month due to getting into difficulty in the water near Eastbourne Pier has spoken out against police.

On the evening of May 1 around 7.20pm a man was taken to hospital in ‘serious condition’ after being pulled from the sea near the pier, police confirmed.

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Doorman Richard Mitchell was an eyewitness to what happened as he was working at the Drop In The Ocean pub at the end of the pier at the time of the incident.

Eastbourne Pier tragedy. Photo by Laurence Baker.

Mr Mitchell is also the nephew of the individual found in the water, now known to be Graham Coombes. He said he didn’t realise it was Mr Coombes at the time as he hadn’t seen him for a long time.

Mr Mitchell said when two police officers arrived at the scene Mr Coombes was ‘screaming for help’ from the water.

Mr Mitchell, who is first-aid trained, said police officers wouldn’t let him, or an off-duty lifeguard who was also present, jump in to help Mr Coombes.

He said he helped the male police officer over the gate to get down to the fishing platform, however by the time the officer got down there with the lifebuoy Mr Coombes was face down in the water and drifting further away from the pier.

Mr Mitchell is angry that police stopped him and the off-duty lifeboat jumping in with the lifebuoy to hold Mr Coombes’ head above the water whilst they waited for the lifeboat.

He said, “It’s made me feel even worse knowing I could have saved him. Knowing all of us could have done more to save him makes it worse. We were all in tears.”

He also said police haven’t asked him for a statement or viewed CCTV from the pier since that day to find out what happened for Mr Coombes to end up in the water. 

Nathan Martin is Mr Coombes’ stepson and confirmed his stepfather died on May 4 at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton. 

Mr Martin shared the same anger as Mr Mitchell around the subject of how police handled the incident that night, and what work has been done since surrounding CCTV and eyewitness statements.

These concerns were raised to Sussex Police and in response a spokesperson said, “We are looking into the circumstances surrounding this tragic incident and our thoughts are with the man’s family at this time.

“We have received a complaint in relation to this matter and this is being reviewed in liaison with the man’s family.”

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