A butlin’s barmaid was dragged into the sea by a violent wave and drowned after an argument with her boyfriend, an investigation heard.
Bethany Skinner, 22, was dragged out of the water on February 24, 2019 in Bognor Regis, West Sussex.
The Plymouth University arts graduate, originally from Taunton, Somerset, died in hospital two days later after suffering brain damage from lack of oxygen.
An investigation found that Bethany had worked at Butlin’s to pay her students’ overdrafts and was about to move to China to teach English to children.
She had been to Sheik’s nightclub with a group of friends who had all worked at Butlin’s the night she died.
Crawley Coroner’s Court heard that Bethany and her boyfriend of three months had an argument at the club and were asked by security staff to leave.
In a statement, the bouncer accompanying Bethany outside said she had told him, “I’ve been trying to please him all night, but I can’t do anything right.”
Bethany’s friend Philip Erickson said, “We had a bit of an argument. She said I was spending too much time with the boys. She said she was going home.”
“I said I didn’t want her to go home. When she tried to leave I grabbed her arm to stop her and the bouncer thought it was a bigger fight and fight so they told us we should walk.
“I’d say I was tipsy. She was on the same level as drunk, tipsy.”
Mr. Erickson said they left the club and Bethany went to the beach before him and yelled at him to leave her alone.
She then stood with the sea around her legs while he stood a few paces away.
He said, “The tide was very hard. There were a lot of waves. She stood up to her shins where the water is and said she was going in.
“It all happened so quickly. The wave hit her a little, she stumbled.”
Mr. Erickson jumped after her, but although he had previously worked as a lifeguard, he had “never seen anything like” the tide that night.
He said, “I tried to get her. When the waves came I had to let go – there was nothing I could do. I had her by her arm and was trying to grab her by her waist and lay her over me and swim.
“There were times when the waves came over us. I looked back and she went down.”
Mr. Erickson said Bethany told him she couldn’t swim and “wouldn’t let her die,” but he had to get out and run back to the nightclub for help.
Security guards called emergency services and a lifeboat was launched to rescue them.
Mr. Erickson was rushed to the hospital and visited a police station the next day where he was arrested on suspicion of an “apparent assault”.
Ian Wheaton, who represented the family, said Bethany was “petrified by the water” and “avoided it at all costs”.
He also suggested that Bethany and Mr. Erickson may have had a “physical” fight when an autopsy found Bethany had a black eye and other bruises on her body.
However, coroner Alicia Keen said the bruises found were likely due to being “plunged” in the ocean as her body was carried under the pier by the current.
She said, “In my opinion this is a total guess. Yes it could be a slap, but given the roughness of the sea, the clapboard and the fact that she went under the pier, I suggest that it be could.”
West Sussex Police Detective Sergeant Graham Leaney provided evidence saying they found “no evidence” that Mr. Erickson caused Bethany any harm.
A police investigation found that the bruises must have appeared since their time at sea and that no criminal charges have been brought against Mr. Erickson.
RNLI lifeguard Andrew Harris provided evidence that a member of his team had fallen off the boat while rescuing Bethany and it was difficult to land on the beach due to the choppy water.
Bethany had no pulse but was resuscitated with CPR and taken to St. Richard’s Hospital in Chichester.
She was taken to the intensive care unit, where it was found that she had suffered “incurable” brain damage as a result of the lack of oxygen.
One pathologist cited one cause of death as multiple organ failure as a result of immersion.
“Beautiful young woman”
In a statement, Bethany’s family said, “Beth was a beautiful young woman of 22 who had her whole life ahead of her. As a child and as she got older, she was sassy and lively.
“She loved and cared for others and protected her younger sisters. She was determined to travel more as it opened her eyes to the world.
“As can be seen from her studies, she was very artistic and loved to express herself through art. The family cannot understand what happened that night and is tormented if they do not know.”
Ms. Keen concluded that on the day of Bethany’s death the water was “high and heavy”.
She said: “The weather was very windy, there were high water sources, it is the largest flood of two in the year.
“We can only say that the judgment is not always best when we have been drinking.
That may have been part of it, and she was also quite angry with Philip as they continued arguing on the beach. For some reason, she stood with her knuckles in the water and it appears that she was dragged into the sea by a breaking wave and moving shingle. “