Ukrainian refugee, 14, ‘may have lost edge of sea wall before falling to death’

A Ukrainian refugee schoolgirl found unconscious on a Devon beach may have “lost” the edge of a sea wall in the dark before falling to her death, an inquest heard.

Albina Yevko, 14, who came to the UK from the war-torn country in 2022, was reported missing on the evening of March 4 last year and was later found unconscious on Dawlish beach.

Albina had gone for a walk to the shops at dusk and when she did not return her mother, Inna Yevko, tried calling her numerous times, but she did not answer.

She was airlifted to hospital in Exeter where she died the next morning.

On Tuesday, senior investigating police officer Becky Davies told an inquest at Exeter and Greater Devon Coroner’s Court that she concluded Albina may have “lost” the edge of the wall in the dark and fell, saying she believed suicide was “highly unlikely”.

Ms Davies said the sea wall, which sits between a railway line and the beach, is “well above head height” and had “no barrier, no lighting and no markings as to where the edge was”.

The Devon and Cornwall Police officer added that Albina was found “face down” with a wet front, dry hair and “dishevelled” clothes, believing that she fell while the tide was in.

Network Rail owns the wall, which people use as a coastal path, and it carries out “regular inspection and repair”, the inquest heard.

Robert Warren, Network Rail’s head of route safety, health and environment in the south-west, said that hand railings were considered following a risk assessment of the wall in 2015.

However, Mr Warren said it would be “very difficult to install and maintain”.

He went on: “We found ourselves limited in what we could install there that would actually stand up to the erosion.”

The risk assessment also recommended that signs should be installed informing people of the edge and possible “uneven or slippery” surface.

Asked by coroner Alison Longhorn if signs were checked after this, Mr Warren said: “I don’t believe so”.

Mr Warren agreed that improved lighting or a white line on the wall would have mitigated the risk of Albina’s death.

The inquest heard of seven “fatal incidents” involving people falling from the wall between 1974 and 1996.

Another risk assessment is ongoing, with hand railing, anchorage systems, lighting and signage being considered, the inquest heard.

Mr Warren said: “I think the risk assessment demonstrates how seriously we view the risk under our stewardship.”

Asked if he believes Network Rail did the right thing on ensuring the wall’s safety, he added: “Ultimately, yes.”

A post-mortem examination gave Albina’s cause of death as multiple injuries, which were “in keeping with a fall from height”, the inquest heard.

Albina was born in Ukraine but had been living with her mother at a flat in the seaside town while attending Dawlish College.

Ms Yevko, said in a written statement that her daughter “preferred to be in her own company” but was helpful and caring with others.

She said Albina was “happy” in the UK, had a small group of friends, enjoyed anime and manga books and would often go out for walks at around 6pm.

In a statement issued by police after Albina’s death, Ms Yevko said: “Myself and my family are devastated to have lost our beautiful Albina.

“Nothing can ever replace her in our hearts.”

The inquest is due to conclude later on Tuesday.