Girl, 14, fatally fell from Devon sea wall with missing safety features, inquest told

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Missing safety features on a sea wall in Devon would have mitigated the risk of the death of a Ukrainian refugee schoolgirl who suffered a fatal fall, a Network Rail official has told an inquest.

Albina Yevko, 14, who came to the UK from the war-torn country in 2022, was reported missing on the evening of 4 March last year and was later found unconscious on Dawlish beach. She was airlifted to hospital in Exeter where she died the next morning, an inquest in Exeter heard.

Network Rail owns the wall, which people use as a coastal path, and it carries out “regular inspection and repair”, the inquest heard. On Tuesday, Robert Warren, Network Rail’s head of route safety, health and environment in the south-west, said seven other people had died falling from the wall between 1974 and 1996.

He told the inquest that hand railings were considered after a risk assessment of the wall in 2015.

However, Warren said they would be “very difficult to install and maintain”. He added: “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 about the edge and possible “uneven or slippery” surface. Asked by the coroner, Alison Longhorn, if signs had been checked after this, Warren said: “I don’t believe so.”

Warren agreed that improved lighting or a white line on the wall would have mitigated the risk of Albina’s death. Another risk assessment is ongoing, with hand railings, anchorage systems, lighting and signage being considered, the inquest heard. 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 said: “Ultimately, yes.”

The senior investigating police officer at Devon and Cornwall police, Becky Davies, said she concluded Albina may have “lost” the edge of the wall in the dark and fallen, saying she believed suicide was “highly unlikely”.

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 police officer added that Albina was found “face down” with a wet front, dry hair and “dishevelled” clothes, and she believed that she fell while the tide was in. 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.

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Mother and daughter selfieView image in fullscreen

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

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 about 6pm.

The inquest is due to conclude later on Tuesday.


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