West Wittering beach tragedy: Estate cleared

A teenager who was paralysed after back flipping into shallow waters in West Wittering despite warnings from lifeguards has been told he will not receive any compensation.

Charlie Baldacchino, from Portsmouth, who was 14 at the time, had his multi-million pound claim against the West Wittering Estate dismissed by the High Court in London.

Mr Baldacchino, now 19, was told by Judge Stuart Baker he had 'failed to judge properly for himself the depth of the water in relation to the depth of his dive'.

Earlier on that fateful day Mr Baldacchino and some friends had jumped off the 6ft-high metal beacon while the tide was high without incident.

Later on, he thought the tide was higher when in fact the water was receding, exposing him to immediate hazard.

Lawyers acting for Mr Baldacchino, of Northern Parade, had argued if signs had been installed around the beacon to warn of the hazards it posed, then he would still be a fit and healthy teenager today.

It was also claimed lifeguards had not done enough to stop people diving off the structure.

But the judge rejected the claims, saying the lifeguards had done their utmost to keep the beach well supervised and had carefully monitored the beach, using a special watchtower while another lifeguard used a jet ski to supervise the waters.

During the hearing, Neil Block QC, representing West Wittering Estate, said there had been a network of well-trained lifeguards in radio contact with each other.

He told the judge Mr Baldacchino's injuries were 'a matter of great sadness' and the people of West Wittering were united in their sympathy for him.

Mr Block said: "Life is not without risk. When a youth of sufficient age to appreciate risk of injury and danger chooses to do something as foolish and dangerous as diving backwards from height into water which he ought to have known was shallow, or of unknown depth, he cannot seek to blame others."

Lifeguards had warned Mr Baldacchino and his friends to stay away from the beacon before they went for lunch earlier in the day.

The judge said the beacon was 'self-evidently not a climbing frame, diving platform or floating pontoon'.

It was a navigational device put there to warn sailors of the long wooden groynes along the beach which are submerged at high tide.

Judge Baker did not accept that warning signs would have prevented the tragedy.

He said: "I don't think notices would have had any deterrent effect on him or any of the youngsters who clearly wanted to have what they thought was harmless fun."

Neither the lifeguards nor the beach's managers had experience of swimmers larking around on the beacon, which most visitors realised should be avoided.

Charlie was also legally a 'trespasser' when he got on to the beacon since he had no legal right to be there.

Eyewitnesses testified on Charlie's behalf that it took the lifeguards up to 11 minutes to reach the teenager after he was pulled out of the water.

But Judge Baker accepted the lifeguards' account that they materialised by his side within a minute of the dive.

West Wittering Estate said they did not want to comment.