Family of man who drowned in Hove call for ‘positive changes’ to prevent further tragedies

The son of a man who was swept out to sea in Hove is trying to bring about ‘positive changes’ to prevent such a tragedy happening again.

Friday, 11th June 2021, 12:49 pm
Updated Friday, 11th June 2021, 12:56 pm
Councillor Robert Nemeth (left) with Robbie Jones

Gareth Jones, 69, drowned in January after entering the water to try and save his dog, Connie.

His son, Robbie Jones, said there was ‘a very steep drop’ in the shingle on this part of the beach, which he noticed after visiting the spot a week after the tragedy.

“Very quickly we thought, something has to be done here really,” he said. “It was quite disturbing to see how bad the drop was.”

Much-loved father Gareth Jones

Robbie was keen to find out whether the drop was formed naturally or whether it was the result of intervention.

Each year, tonnes of shingle are removed from Brighton Marina and brought to the beach at Shoreham Port.

Councillor Robert Nemeth, who has been campaigning with Robbie, said the council had agreed to meet them at the beach to discuss the issue.

Robbie was also ‘shocked and disappointed’ to see there were no safety signs at the beach, which is next to so-called ‘millionaire’s row’.

“There’s lots of ‘private beach’ signs, lots of warnings about that, but there’s nothing about the sheer drop and people’s safety,” he said.

Adding new signage to warn people would be ‘an easy fix’, he said. “They could do it tomorrow.”

Robbie is keen to raise awareness of the dangers, and also more generally to increase education around beach safety – especially for young children and in schools.

“We don’t really have any education about living by the sea and beach safety,” he said. “I grew up in Brighton from the age of eight, and I’ve never been taught about the dangers of the sea and different tides.”

He added: “I’m not naive about this, I know none of this would have probably prevented my dad’s death.

“But what I can do is make some positive changes, if I can.

“Some people say, I don’t know how you can do this when you’re grieving, to try and make a positive change, but that’s exactly what my dad would have done, if it was the opposite way around.”

Hundreds of local people took part in a large scale search for Gareth when he was confirmed missing, alongside a coastguard helicopter and two RNLI lifeboats.

The news of his death prompted a wave of grief, with tributes pouring in locally, nationally and internationally from friends and former colleagues.

Robbie said it was ‘wonderful’ to hear how much his father had touched people’s lives – but said he was not surprised.

“We knew how amazing our dad was,” he said. “We knew he was loved.

“He knew he was loved, he knew he was the man that everyone went to.

“Everyday he is just very missed.”

He added: “The cruel thing is, after everything he has done...for his life to be taken away in just 55 seconds, that’s what disturbs me.

“For someone who gave so much to life, who had so many ideas about society and politics, that’s pretty harrowing and in a way a wake-up call for everyone to just go for things and for opportunities, because you don’t know whne it’s going to be your time.”

Mr Nemeth said: “We are certainly pleased that the council has agreed to meet us to discuss procedures from an engineering perspective and very much hope to understand whether or not any changes are possible to increase safety.

“As a minimum, we would hope to agree improvements to signage and community outreach so that more people are aware just how dangerous steep shingle shelves can be.”

A council spokesperson said: “We were greatly saddened by the tragic incident involving Mr Jones, and our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends.

“The section of the beach where the tragedy occurred has a history of coastal erosion and coastal flooding.

“Shingle recycling forms a critical part of the coast protection in this area.

“Deep shelving beaches and steep sudden drops are a naturally occurring feature of shingle beaches and are common along our coast.

“We recently agreed to meet with one of our local councillors for that stretch of beach to discuss why we carry out shingle recycling and how we go about it.

“There are a considerable number of beach safety signs already in place in that area.

“They have been designed in line with the RNLI’s beach safety sign guidelines, which are a nationally recognised standard for beach operators.

“First and foremost, we would always appeal to residents and visitors not to go in the sea during difficult weather conditions.

“With higher usage of the sea because of the pandemic, we have repeatedly issued guidance on safe use of the sea.”