Prince Charles’s private estate was repeatedly warned about the danger posed by a Cornish beach it owns before an incident in which a man died after being swept out to sea.
Councillors told the Duchy of Cornwall as the summer season approached that someone could die at Crantock beach because storm damage had made the water more dangerous.
As long ago as April 2016 Crantock parish council expressed concern about the beach in public and made clear it believed any accident would be the responsibility of the duchy, which funds the activities of the Prince of Wales.
Oneil Din, 27, a youth worker and musician from Coventry, was caught in a rip current at Crantock in north Cornwall last week. His family has said he was standing in relatively shallow water when he was swept out.
Surfers and paddleboarders helped pull Din from the water and he was airlifted to hospital but could not be saved.
On Monday it emerged that in April Crantock parish council wrote to the duchy expressing its concerns about the beach, which has become more dangerous since a breakwater was damaged by storms in 2015, causing the river Gannel to change course.
The council said it was “extremely concerned about the safety risks to the public at large on a very busy beach, especially in the summer, and the possibility of an unfortunate, and potentially fatal, situation occurring”.
Twelve months before, the then chair of the parish council, Brook Blackford, told a Cornwall council community meeting that the local surf club was describing the situation as “really dangerous”. Notes of the meeting recorded: “If an accident does happen, in their [the council’s] opinion, it will be the duchy’s responsibility.”
Meetings about the beach were held late in 2016 and early in 2017 involving the parish council, the duchy, Natural England and the government’s marine management organisation.
The idea of engineering work to reroute the river was discussed but the minutes of a subsequent parish council meeting reported: “Any work undertaken could be very costly and a storm could cause a reversal. However, the number of incidents is growing and the duchy has a duty of care.”
Din’s death is not the only incident at the beach this summer. Earlier this month 11 bodyboarders had to be rescued by RNLI lifeguards. Din was swept out at a time when the beach was not patrolled.
A spokesperson for the Duchy of Cornwall said it would meet again with the parish council on Friday.
The spokesperson said: “We would like to express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Oneil Din, who tragically lost his life.
“The Duchy of Cornwall has been in touch with the parish council and the National Trust [which owns the higher reaches of the beach] for some time regarding public safety at Crantock beach. In 2016 new signs were installed to alert people to the danger of strong currents and other risks. We plan to meet again with the parish council, National Trust and other stakeholders to see what more can possibly be done.”
The duchy commissioned an independent risk assessment last year following concerns expressed by the parish council. It is understood the assessment concluded that the most immediate and effective way to reduce risk was to ensure the public was properly informed of the danger. New signs were installed and advice on websites updated.
Re-engineering the route of the river is not a simple solution. As a marine conservation zone, the area has protected status and even if the proposal were approved, a fear is that more storms could reroute the river again and undo any work that had been done.
The duchy’s estate covers 53,266 hectares of land across 23 counties, mostly in the south-west of England. It comprises arable and livestock farms, residential and commercial properties, as well as forests, rivers, quarries, and coastline.