Woman who drowned off Cornwall beach was 'wonderful mother and wife'

woman who drowned off cornwall beach was 'wonderful mother and wife'

A woman died at Porthcurnick Beach near Portscatho, in Cornwall, after suffering a medical episode while swimming

A beloved wife, mother, and retired head teacher who died at a beach in Cornwall has been described as being “full of energy, determination and drive”. Julie Beach died while swimming at Porthcurnick Beach, near Portscatho on the Roseland peninsula, on August 12, 2022.

An inquest held today (March 20) at Cornwall Coroner’s Court in Truro, heard that Mrs Beach, 59, was a fit and healthy woman who would often swim in the same location. She was described as being passionate about her health and fitness and was very familiar with the area.

Julie has been remembered as “a wonderful mother and wife” by her loved ones who describe her as devoted to both her career and family. She worked as a deputy head teacher and then head teacher of a Liskeard primary school for many years.

Simon Beach retired in 2017 and Julie followed suit in 2018. A statement written by Mr Beach, said: “She absolutely loved teaching and spending time with the children.”

He continued: “Julie’s interests were wide and varied; she enjoyed walking dogs, and at the time of her death had four dogs including two puppies and a rescue dog. She enjoyed literature, keeping herself fit, sunbathing, walking, travelling and journeying through Europe.”

Once she retired Julie joined the Samaritans, an emotional support charity, initially as a call handler and then became involved in the management of the organisation. He said “she gave 100 per cent” to this role and also served on the local council.

But among all she was described as being “very aware of her health” due to a number of early deaths on her mother’s side of the family, from heart related illnesses – eating well and exercising often. The day of her death was described as “very normal” and “very routine” by family as Julie decided to go for a swim to “cool off”.

“Julie consistently ran three times a week and took up sea-swimming which she loved,” the statement continued. “As long as the swell stayed small she swam twice a week in the colder months and as often as she could in the summer months. She swam in the same location at Porthcurnick Beach each time she went which would take her about half an hour.”

Paying tribute to his wife, he said: “Julie was a wonderful mother and wife and her devotion to her job never compromised her time with her family. She was full of energy, determination and drive and this is how her family will remember her.”

The inquest heard that Mrs Beach, after retiring, devoted her time to fitness – running three times a week and enjoying sea swimming regularly. She wore an orange buoy around her waist as recommended by lifeguards and often went with other members of the family.

She and her husband ventured out on the evening of her death for a swim at Porthcurnick Beach, where they often visited. He was walking their dogs nearby and was due to join her in the water shortly after when she was seen struggling in the water.

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Witness Christine Boon gave a statement during the investigation saying she heard a swimmer calling weakly for help whilst Mrs Boon and her husband walked the coastal path. She described Mrs Beach as swimming breaststroke approximately 50 meters from the cliff and 50 to 75 meters from the beach.

She ran down to the beach and began swimming out so sea to assist the woman in distress. Her statement said: “From sighting and hearing the call for help to actually reaching the swimmer took me about five minutes. Although the sea conditions were more challenging for swimming than the previous day, I could see her and swam towards her in a straight line”.

Another witness on the beach was calling 999 and a male swimmer who was stronger reached Mrs Beach first. She was described as having no signs of life and she was towed back to the beach by the gentleman.

While the gentleman swam with Mrs Beach back to shore, Mrs Boon said she did not see any obvious signs of life, moving or splashing from Mrs Beach. She said the water was not cold and that it was “one of the warmest days of the year”.

CPR efforts were attempted and the coastguard, a lifeboat, an air ambulance and an inshore ambulance arrived but she could not be saved. Mrs Beach was declared dead on the beach shortly before 7pm.

Her GP described Mrs Beach as a normally fit individual with no long term health conditions and nor mental health problems. The pathologist, who conducted the autopsy, Dr Grigor, said it was possible that she had suffered an unexpected cardiac episode, but recorded the death as drowning due to fluid in the lungs.

The inquest heard that there was no evidence of traumatic injury. Evidence did however show some plaque disease on the heart that the pathologist said could not exclude the possibility of a coronary episode.

He concluded she died of drowning but did raise the possibility of a cardiac medical episode while in the sea. Mrs Beach’s husband said the family wanted to be able to understand why the strong swimmer might have stopped swimming and the possible reasons that would cause a healthy individual to suddenly struggle in the water.

Dr Grigor said it remains a possibility that fluid in the lungs could have been a sign of acute heart failure, or a pump failure. He said the evidence of coronary disease at post-mortem also does not exclude a coronary event.

It was also heard that there was no other significant natural pathology that would explain her death aside from a potential coronary problem. Mrs Beach’s daughter, Francesca, asked if there would have been any indication prior to the event that she could have been unwell.

Dr Grigor continued to say the event could have been “out of the blue”. He said: “I don’t see that it’s impossible that it would be out of the blue and that there would have been no [prior] event.”

A police report given at the time said there was no CCTV or digital evidence to consider and there was no third-party involvement. The investigating officer said it was “entirely likely” that a medical episode occurred while Mrs Beach was swimming.

In a family statement read out during the inquest it was heard that Julie was born in Jersey and was a “much loved only child”. Her family returned to the North East near Newcastle but after Julie suffered some chest infections as a child, the family decided to move to Cornwall when she was aged eight.

Julie attended Truro Grammar School, then Richard Lander, before attending university where she qualified as a primary school teacher. She met her husband in 1982 before marrying and going on to start her first job at St Petroc’s C of E Primary School, in Bodmin. They had two daughters, Francesca and Tamara.

Julie continued teaching at St Petroc’s before working briefly at a school in Truro and then went on to be assistant head teacher at St Martin’s C of E School in Liskeard and was eventually promoted to head teacher.

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