Hitchin miller drowned off Jamaican beach despite wife’s attempts to save him, inquest hears

Frenchman's Cove beach at Port Antonio, Jamaica, where Paul Brookman tragically drowned. Picture: Ch

Frenchman's Cove beach at Port Antonio, Jamaica, where Paul Brookman tragically drowned. Picture: Chaoleonard at English Wikipedia - Credit: Archant

A flour miller holidaying in Jamaica drowned amid strong currents as his wife tried to save him, an inquest heard today.

Paul Brookman, 47 – who lived in Stotfold and worked at Jas Bowman & Sons’ Ickleford mill, near Hitchin – died despite the efforts of his wife Wendy and two others to rescue him.

Describing attempts to resuscitate her husband in a statement read out at Hatfield’s Old Courthouse today, Wendy Brookman said: “I didn’t give up, but in my heart I knew it was hopeless.”

The inquest – which concluded today after starting more than three years ago – heard that Mr and Mrs Brookman were five days into a two-week Jamaica trip when the tragedy happened on September 9, 2014, during a day excursion highly recommended on TripAdvisor.

The group of 16 tourists were dropped off with two staff at about 11.45am at Frenchman’s Cove, in Portland parish on the island’s north coast, and told they could have a swim before lunch at 12.30pm.

Wendy Brookman said her husband had gone in ahead of her for a dip in the water while she put their things on a table – but wasn’t clearly visible when she looked up.

“I did not see him immediately, which I thought was strange,” she said.

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“I could see him on the right, near the boundary of the cove. I started to run towards him to tell him he was going too far.

“I could see the panic in his face and I realised he was in distress.”

Running in after her husband – who was not a strong swimmer – Mrs Brookman shouted for help while trying to pull his face out of the water, but the sea kept splashing over them both and dragging them further from shore amid drizzling rain.

When lifeguard Gary Thomas tried to bring the pair back to shore with a floatation ring, he said he couldn’t bring them both. Mrs Brookman told him to leave her and take her husband.

After another member of the excursion called Andy also tried to help, all four of them were picked up by a fisherman’s boat on which attempts were made to resuscitate Mr Brookman.

The 47-year-old was taken to Port Antonio Hospital in the back of a police car because neither ambulance was available, and there pronounced dead.

Mrs Brookman, who had to travel to the hospital separately on the tour minibus, received the awful news when she arrived.

Witness statements read out by the coroner indicated that the Brookmans had gone out beyond a rope marking a safe distance for swimmers – something Mrs Brookman firmly denied.

Tracey Burton, an American holidaymaker, said her boyfriend had told them: “Don’t go past the rope, there’s a strong undercurrent” – but that she wasn’t sure they had heard.

Two more American tourists, Steven and Pamela Harlow, said in a joint statement that they had decided not to swim as it looked too rough – adding that there “appeared to be no co-ordinated action by staff”, who acted “like headless chickens” amid the emergency.

They said the rest of the group went to the hospital with Mrs Brookman after being asked if they would prefer to stay for lunch.

There was disagreement about how quickly the lifeguard had come to the couple’s aid, with Mrs Brookman saying Gary Thomas took some time to arrive while others stated that he rushed to the scene immediately.

Summing up, Coroner Geoffrey Sullivan said: “The exact events aren’t clear to me, but what is clear is Mr Brookman went swimming at Frenchman’s Cove, he got into trouble and it was due to the strength of these currents that he did so.

“Sadly, despite the best efforts of his wife Wendy, Mr Thomas and at least one other member of the tour group who went out to help, they were not able to save him.”

He concluded: “I must be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that it was an accident, and it is certainly an appropriate conclusion – but to my mind the more appropriate conclusion is that he died as a result of drowning.”

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