The tragic deaths of 18-year-old Muhammad Shabbir and his 16 year old brother, Ali Shabbir, touched the hearts of our whole community in Lytham St. Anne’s. The Coroner’s Inquest commenced in Blackpool this morning.
It was on the Summer’s day of 15th August 2020 that the Shabbir family from Dewsbury drove to Lytham St. Anne’s for a day out on our beach. And it was early on this Summer’s evening that the two brothers and their cousin Hamza were playing in the water when they were swept out to sea. It was at around 6.00 p.m. that the teenagers went into the water for one last paddle before returning home. It was then that they were caught out by the tide coming in so fast that they were dragged underwater and washed out to sea. Hanza managed to struggle back to shore. So sadly, the bodies of the two brothers, Muhammad and Ali, were washed up the following day.
Yorkshire Live have reported on the inquest which began this morning at Blackpool Town Hall.
This inquest is in the hands of Assistant Coroner Andrew Cousins. He said: ‘On August 15 in 2020 Ali, Muhammad and Hanza came with their family for a day at the beach. At approximately 6.00 p.m. the three began to get into difficulty in the water. Hamza managed to get back to the shore. However, sadly, both Ali and Muhammad were unable to escape and were swept out to sea.’
Detective Inspector Kevin Simmons told the inquest that the boys’ struggle was witnessed by relatives and members of the public who saw the pair ‘struggling in water up to their chests’. DI Simmonds said, ‘They got cut off by an incoming tide while playing in the sea. Although they appeared to be in shallow water it encroached behind them. Hamza made it to the shore but Muhammad and Ali continued to struggle in the water which was coming up to their chests. They were then dragged from view. Lifeboat crews, the Coastguard, police and members of the public spent seventeen hours searching for the boys.’
The inquest heard that is was at 3.20 p.m. the next day when the bodies of Muhammad and Ali, who had limited swimming ability, were found, approximately a mile away from where they were last seen. They were both fully clothed, apart from their shoes, and were found face down on the sand close to each other.
A post mortem examination confirmed the brothers had both drowned.
Detective Inspector Simmons revealed that the high and low tide times, printed on a sign nearby to where the Shabbir family parked, were out of date. He said, ‘The schedule was out of date and didn’t show the current high and low tide times. The person responsible at the local authority had been off on a period of leave and the task hadn’t been allocated.’ A police investigation later revealed that updated signs were put up on August 18 – two days after Muhammad and Ali were found dead.
Ian Curtis, Head of Governance at Fylde Borough Council, asked DI Simmons if there was any evidence to suggest the Shabbir family had consulted the sign, to which he replied, ‘No’.
The coroner asked DI Simmons about the nature of the tides around St Anne’s as well as the landscape of the beach. He sad, “From personal experience, with it being such a flat beach, it does come in quite rapidly.’
Mrs Shabbir said she had ‘not noticed any signs or warning signs’ about the water or the tide at the beach and had made ‘a conscious effort’ to look for some the day after her sons were swept out to sea. Although she said ‘no one is to blame’, Mrs Shabbir did question the length of time it took for the emergency services to arrive at the scene. ‘I don’t understand why it took so long,’ she said.
The boys’ father, Talat Shabbir, who runs a mail order firm from the family home in Clarke Street, Dewsbury, said he called 999 when the boys were seen struggling in the water but ‘didn’t think they would be able to reach the area in time’. The emergency services arrived around 45 minutes after Mr Shabbir called 999.
The boys’ mother, Tasleem Shabbir, revealed she had warned them about not going too far out. She had been sat about a mile away from the water with the younger children.
The coroner said to Mrs Shabbir, ‘Mr Shabbir asked you if you thought they were too far away and you said you warned them several times. You tried to attract their attention but were unable to do so… by this point the water was at their waists and had been at their ankles, in the space of about a minute.’
‘It was very fast, very fast,’ Mrs Shabbir replied.
Mr Shabbir echoed his wife’s concerns about the lack of signage at the beach or the car park, close to the Monterey Beach Hotel, where the family had parked.
‘I was surprised, it’s such a large public place and I thought there would be more signs,’ he added.
One witness, Joshua Nawab, ventured into the water to attempt to rescue the boys, who he said were about ten to fifteen metres away from dry land, but he was unable to reach them. Another witness, Dr Amjad Kapadi, called for an ambulance as he said: ‘The young boy (Hamza) was quite wet and distressed, and I was worried he might be having a hypothermic attack.’
Hamza was taken to hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia.
On the beach, the coastguard and RNLI crews from Blackpool, Lytham and Southport continued to search for Muhammad and Ali. It was on 16th August, at around 3.20pm, that the bodies of the two brothers were found about twenty metres from each other near the pier.
The inquest also heard from RNLI station officer Paul Little who is based at Lytham.
Mr Little explained that when the call came in to the coastguard at 7.08 p.m. the voluntary RNLI crew were returning from the last of five callouts in the Blackpool area. The crew arrived at St Anne’s Pier at 7.16pm. ‘Generally speaking it’s a very, very safe beach We have never had an incident like this previously. There are occasions when people get cut off… it’s a regular occurrence in Blackpool… but not in the location where this happened.’
Mr Little explained that as a ‘flatter beach’ it was unusual for people to get cut off by the tide at Lytham compared to Blackpool where the tide often comes in along a gully between a person and the shore.
Lisa Foden, Parks and Coastal Services Manager at Fylde Borough Council, said new procedures for ensuring tide timetables were updated had been introduced following the deaths of Muhammad and Ali. New signs are also set to be installed at prominent entrance points to the beach as part of a safety programme launched before the events of August 15.
‘A risk assessment was carried out (before the deaths) and we felt additional safety signage was required,’ she added. ‘The council is also investing in excess of £80,000 for new and additional signage.’ The new signs, including one at the point where the Shabbir family entered the beach, will include information about emergency contacts and advice about tidal patterns and sandbanks.’
Mrs Shabbir said she would have been unable to see the sign at the toilet block on the Pier as it was ‘surrounded by people’. She added, ‘Maybe change the locations.’
Ian Curtis, Head of Governance at Fylde Borough Council, accepted that the tide timetables displayed were out-of-date. ‘That shouldn’t have been the case,” he said. However, Mr Curtis said he did not accept the incorrect timetable contributed to the deaths, and added: ‘The deaths were a tragic accident but an accident plain and simple.’
The Coroner giving a conclusion of accidental death, said that, ‘The incoming tide had advanced very rapidly and the presence of the gullies and sandbars had lulled Muhammad and Ali into a false sense of security and they were unaware of the depth of the water. Sadly they both got into difficulty and were unable to escape from the sea.’ This final ruling means no one has been blamed for their tragic demise.
An inquest is a formal court hearing at which a coroner must establish who died and how, when and where the death occurred. An inquest must be held if a sudden death was violent or traumatic, or if the cause of an unexpected death has not been explained by illness or disease. Inquests are public hearings and are usually held at designated coroner’s courts in the district where the death occurred.