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‘Disrespectful’ artwork to stay in place near scene of drownings

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council reversed decision to remove 15 metre archway from beach after speaking with victims’ families.

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Bournemouth beach deaths

A piece of art will remain in place at a spot close to where two young people drowned in the sea.

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council said on Friday it would remove the Portal installation from the beach, near Bournemouth Pier, but it will remain in place after the council spoke to the families of Joe Abbess, 17, and Sunnah Khan, 12.

The pair drowned and eight other people were treated by paramedics after they were suspected to have been caught in a riptide next to the pier.

The council had agreed to remove the 15 metre-high mirrored archway, part of Bournemouth’s annual Arts by the Sea Festival, after a complaint by Vanessa Abbess, Joe’s mother, who described it as “disrespectful”.

Bournemouth beach deaths
Joe Abbess, from Southampton, who died after getting into difficulty in the water off Bournemouth beach (Family handout/PA)

Confirming the removal, BCP Council chief executive Graham Farrant apologised to the families for a “crass mistake”.

But late on Friday, a joint statement from the council and Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival said the artwork would remain in place until Wednesday and addressed Mr Farrant’s comments.

The statement said: “We remain deeply sorry for the upset the positioning of this installation has caused and apologise once again for any further distress experienced by the families of Joe Abbess and Sunnah Khan.

“After speaking with the families, it has been agreed that the installation will remain on Bournemouth Beach as planned. As a mark of respect, the audio and lighting of Portal was switched off on Friday night.”

“With respect to the artist, Lucid Creates, BCP Council feel it is important to clarify that a previous statement using the word ‘crass’ was in reference to the location of the artwork and not the installation itself and we apologise for any confusion.”

Bournemouth beach deaths
Sunnah Khan also died (Family handout/PA)

In a statement, Vanessa Abbess said the family had been “shocked and astounded” by news reports of the installation, which she described as “disrespectful”.

She said: “As a family, we were shocked and astounded to see news reports of the disrespectful ‘Arts by the Sea’ installation at the Bournemouth beach yesterday.

“The ‘Portal of Hope’ was badly located and thoughtless, as it frames the area of sea where our son Joe and Sunnah Khan got into difficulties.

“In addition, it is sited on the area of beach where emergency services cared for all casualties on May 31 and the tragic circumstances unfolded. This is not a suitable area to celebrate the sea or to place a tourist attraction.”

She said the family had contacted BCP Council as owners of the beach to express “distress and upset” and that plans for the artwork “could have been easily adjusted in the last 17 weeks”.

Mr Farrant said the council would review internal processes to avoid a repeat.

An inquest has been opened into the deaths of the two youngsters and is expected to be held in full in September 2024.

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