Portsmouth: Coroner Describes Rescuer As "True Hero"

13 February 2014, 16:10 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50

A coroner has described a 33-year-old man as a "true hero'' after he drowned as he "selflessly'' helped to rescue two young girls who got into trouble in the sea in Portsmouth.

Marco De Araujo, of Grafton Street, Portsmouth, died after he entered the water at Old Portsmouth along with another man, Connor Faith, to assist the youngsters, aged four and 10, on July 26 2012.

His body was found in the Solent by the crew of Royal Navy warship HMS Richmond on August 7.

The inquest at Portsmouth heard that Mr De Araujo had been at the Hot Walls beach, which is close to the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour, with his partner Tracey Hall and her grandson.

Ms Hall said they were enjoying sitting on the beach during the hot summer's afternoon when they heard a woman calling for help.

She said: "A woman in her swimming costume, she had started calling out 'There's a girl in the water'.

"As I looked out I could see a blonde head by the rocks, she was quite a way out, the woman was shouting out and Marco said to me 'I'm going to help that little girl' and that was it, he was gone.''

She said she later started to become worried when she realised he had not returned. Ms Hall said: "I doubled over, I knew he was gone.''

She said that Mr De Araujo was a strong swimmer and used to swim regularly when he lived in Portugal, where he worked as a barman and silver service waiter.

Ms Hall said during that afternoon he had drunk three cans of Stella lager and smoked a cannabis joint.

Natalie Lock told the inquest that she had gone to the beach with her four children, along with a friend and her four children.

She said the older children had been playing at the water's edge during the afternoon after they had eaten a picnic.

She said: "They were paddling, they weren't going into the water, I told them not to go into the water.''

Ms Lock said that as she was packing up to leave, she heard shouts that two girls, her four-year-old daughter Destiny and her friend's daughter Courtney, 10, were in trouble in the water.

She said: "I freaked out and went straight over, I could see Destiny because Connor was holding her. Courtney had walked to the shore because Marco had brought her to shore.

"Apparently Marco had brought her to shore and gone back out again.''

In a statement read to the court, labourer Mr Faith, who was 17 at the time, described how he had been enjoying the afternoon on the beach with friends when he heard the cries for help.

He said: "There were two young girls drowning, all the people in the beach stood up and moved to the water's edge, my instinct was to jump in after them.

"The current was really strong and took me to the girls. They were shouting 'Help, I want my mum'. The small girl was hanging on to the older one.''

He described how he firstly pushed the older girl to a blonde woman in the water but they became separated. He then managed to again push the girl towards Mr De Araujo who had swum out to help.

He continued: "I swam back out again, which again was with the current, and I managed to get to the other girl and the girl had her face right back facing the sky and was shouting 'I want my daddy'.

"I was struggling to move my arms now as I was really tired. I shouted at the girl 'Get on my back' and we were struggling to stay above the water.''

He said that they shouted for help and a pilot boat arrived, threw them a lifebelt and hauled them from the water.

Praising the courage of Mr De Araujo and Mr Faith, Portsmouth coroner David Horsley said: "Like Marco, he was a very brave man who did everything he could to help those girls.''

Trevor Fox, the pilot boat officer who helped Mr Faith and Destiny on his vessel, said that the water at the harbour mouth can be very choppy because of the frequent traffic which includes Channel ferries.

He said the current was normally about four knots, which would cause small boats to struggle and swimmers would have "very great difficulty''.

Speaking of Mr Faith's efforts, he said: "There is no doubt in my mind, if that chap had not held that little girl, she would definitely have drowned. He was a very brave lad indeed.''

A post-mortem examination carried out by pathologist Dr Adnan Al-Badri showed that Mr De Araujo died of drowning. Toxicology tests showed he had alcohol and small amounts of cannabis in his system.

Reaching a conclusion that Mr De Araujo's death was an accident, Mr Horsley said: "He did not hesitate for one moment when he knew young children were in difficulty.

"That selflessness deserves nothing but praise, he didn't give it a second thought and he has given his life to save those children.

"You and all his family can always be proud of that fact but it doesn't bring him back, but you have good memories of him.

"I have to consider his death as due to an extremely tragic accident.'' He added: "Marco was a true hero.''

After the inquest, Ms Hall said of the coroner's conclusion: "I know he's a hero, it's not news to me, I know what Marco was like. He just did, to me, what was normal.''

Mr Horsley said that there had been confusion amongst the coastguard and emergency services about the correct procedures for the use of loudhailers and radios.

He said he would write to the Queen's Harbour Master and Portsmouth City Council to highlight the issues, asking for them to ensure a formal protocol is in place for such incidents and to re-examine the location of life-rings along the seafront.

Despite that, he stated such improvements would most likely not have saved Mr Araujo's life.

Robert Herron, coastguard deputy station manager, told the inquest that the rules regarding the use of loudhailers by his staff had been clarified since the incident.

He said there had been a misconception at the time that they could not be used but explained they can, to warn people but not to provide instructions.

He said: "We have made it very clear to our members they can use a loudhailer.''

David Evans, seafront and events manager, said that signs with sea safety advice had been upgraded along the seafront following the incident.

He said it would be "impossible to police'' a ban on swimming at the beach and there would likely be public opposition to such a move.

In a statement issued through Hampshire police after his death, Ms Hall said: "A lovely family day turned into my worst nightmare, which I cannot wake from.

"My three-year-old grandson and I watched Marco go into the sea to save lives. There was no hesitation from Marco. I have lost my partner, my best friend and my soulmate.

"To everyone you are a hero, but to me, you were my life. What you showed to everyone by your heroic actions, I already knew. You will never be forgotten, you are my life; a fabulous dad, granddad, son, brother, uncle and friend.

"All who had the pleasure of knowing you are left with a big gaping hole in their hearts. We all adore you more than you'll ever know. I know you're with me and I take great comfort knowing that. One day we will be together again forever.''