‘Devastated’ friends and teachers pay tribute to trainee chef who died in sea

“Devastated” friends and teachers of a 17-year-old trainee chef who died in the Bournemouth beach tragedy said he was “an exceptional student”.

Joe Abbess, who was studying at City College Southampton, drowned along with 12-year-old Sunnah Khan in the Dorset seaside resort on May 31.

Stephanie Williams, the schoolgirl’s mother, has posted on social media, describing her “beautiful” daughter as “so well loved and well liked”.

An inquest into the death of the two youngsters opened at Bournemouth on Monday and heard they were part of a group of people thought to have been caught up in a riptide in the sea near to the pier.

A police officer looks out over Bournemouth beach after a 17-year-old-boy and 12-year-old girl drowned
A police officer looks out over Bournemouth beach after a 17-year-old-boy and 12-year-old girl drowned (PA)

Post-mortem tests revealed they both died of drowning, the inquest was told before coroner Rachael Griffin adjourned proceedings to a further hearing in September.

Martin Sim, principal at City College Southampton, where Joe was studying, said: “We send our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the two young people who lost their lives, which we now know included one of our hospitality students, Joe Abbess.

“We have informed his class of this devastating news and are providing professional support to our students and staff through this difficult time.”

His teachers said in a joint statement: “Joe was an exceptional student who made a huge impact on both the hospitality team and his classmates and he will be deeply missed.

“We loved teaching Joe, he was a gem, with a great sense of humour and an undeniable passion for hospitality.

“He helped everyone and always stepped up as the first to volunteer, he was an exemplary student.

“Joe was always eager to expand his knowledge and took the time to talk to us about our experiences and to learn everything he could.

“He was looking forward to working towards his dream of owning his own restaurant.

“Joe’s legacy will live on in the hearts of those who knew him.”

Friend Ben McKinnon said: “He was the most brilliant, genuine and inspiring person I have ever met.

“Joe was a dear, dear friend of mine and an even bigger inspiration. I will never be able to express how much of an impact Joe has had on me and the others around him.

“A funny, endearing and kind young man with a bright future ahead of him.”

Fellow student Leo Bennett said: “Before half term, we worked together in the kitchen on a real catering event. He had so much talent and was very good at his job.”

Jack Wells added: “Joe was the life of the kitchen.”

Southampton FC, where Joe worked, said: “We’re extremely saddened to hear the news of the tragic passing of Joe Abbess.

“Joe was not only a valued employee of Gather & Gather, the club’s hospitality and catering partner, but a cherished member of our football family here at the club.

“For more than a year, Joe, who was a trainee chef, had worked across the club on matchdays and was a popular colleague amongst all staff.

“The thoughts of everyone associated with both the club and Gather & Gather are with Joe’s family and friends at this difficult time.”

Joe’s family said in a statement: “We are heartbroken and devastated at the death of our Joe. He was a wonderful son and brother who is sadly missed.”

“His family and friends will always love him and we are incredibly proud of the fabulous young man he was. He was kind and generous, loving and caring, hardworking and funny.”

Posting on Twitter, Ms Williams said of her daughter Sunnah: “On Wednesday I lost my beautiful daughter at Bournemouth beach. Sunnah was so well loved and well liked.

“No parent should ever have to go through what her dad and I are going through. We love you so much baby girl.”

A man in his 40s, who was “on the water” at the time, was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter and released under investigation on Thursday.

The Dorset Belle sightseeing boat was impounded by Dorset Police after the incident.

A cruise boat called the Dorset Belle, which was impounded at Cobb’s Quay Marina in Poole, Dorset
A cruise boat called the Dorset Belle, which was impounded at Cobb’s Quay Marina in Poole, Dorset (PA)

The force said the beach was extremely busy but neither Joe or Sunnah or anyone else pulled from the sea at the time of the incident was involved in any collision or contact with any vessel in the water.

Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Corrigan said officers were keeping an “open mind around the circumstances”.

He said: “One of those lines of inquiry has involved the pleasure boat, which was in the area at the time of the incident. These inquiries also include examining wind, other weather and general coastal conditions at the time.

“We are working with experts from partner agencies to understand all of the factors and this will take time to establish.”