UK: BLG Local Authority Newsletter - Do We Really Love To Be Beside The Seaside?

Last Updated: 10 July 2008
Article by Scott Taylor

At this time of year our thoughts turn to summer holidays. A public authority, particularly in coastal regions, might also view this time of year with some concern. The increased volume of visitors to our coasts and waterways inevitably results in accidents and claims.

The question to be considered is what, if anything, can be done to make those visitors safer and prevent claims? Especially those visitors invigorated by beer and heat, determined to cool down in accordance with the latest dangerous fashions.


On 7 July 2007, two middle aged men died as a result of jumping from Clacton Pier into the North Sea. The pair, together with four friends, had been drinking for much of the day according to the Deputy Coroner. They had decided to follow their four friends in carrying out a stunt known as "tombstoning" by jumping into the sea from the elevated pier platform.

The pair struggled to stay afloat after entering the water, and coastguards were called to the scene. Both were unconscious when pulled from the water and died soon after.

A member of pier staff told the inquest how he had spent several minutes trying to prevent the two men from jumping in. He explained the obvious dangers involved and, believing they would not jump, moved away. It was then that he heard two splashes, according to his evidence.

In this case there cannot be any claim against the local authority. The individuals concerned jumped into the sea, despite warnings to the contrary, from a platform owned and operated by a private company. But, there are a number of such diving situations where the local authority can, potentially, be exposed to liability. Many claims arise from diving accidents in inland reservoirs and lakes. Happily, the reported cases show the defendant friendly approach the courts adopt.

Tomlinson v Congelton BC (2003) provides the key defence theme for public authorities. The claimant had chosen to dive into a shallow lake at Brereton Heath Park in Cheshire. Despite numerous notices warning against swimming, the area was regularly used by locals. The claimant dived into the water, struck his head on a submerged obstruction and suffered significant spinal injuries. He alleged that the defendant owed a duty of care to those using the area. The House of Lords held against him in finding that the risk was so obvious that such a duty could simply not exist. The court found that "it would be unreasonable to impose on public authorities a duty to protect persons from self-inflicted harm sustained when taking voluntary risks in the face of obvious dangers."

This line was followed closely in Rhind v Astbury Water Park Limited & Ors (2004). The circumstances were similar. The claimant dived into Astbury Mere, down the road from where Mr Tomlinson was injured the year before, and sustained severe spinal injuries. The High Court found that the risk of injury was so obvious that there was no specific duty upon the occupier to post warning notices (despite the fact that such notices were in place) or to exclude the public from the water's edge.

The important principle in these cases is the personal responsibility of the individual to take care for himself, as opposed to the duty owed by a land owner or public body.

The courts were equally robust on the issue of personal responsibility in Hampstead Heath Winter Swimming Club v the Corporation of London (2005). The High Court, on considering a judicial review application, suggested that the local authority should avoid any prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 should a swimmer suffer injury whilst at an unsupervised session. The Corporation had controversially withdrawn lifeguard cover out of hours and prevented the Club from entering the public swimming ponds. The Corporation feared prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the event that a swimmer suffered injury "out of hours".

In finding that the public ponds should remain open, the Court pointed out that "If an adult swimmer with knowledge of the risks of swimming chooses to swim unsupervised, in a pond which has no hidden dangers, the risk that he would incur would be as a result of his decision and not of the permission given to him to swim. In those circumstances there could be no conviction in accordance with s3. of the 1974 Act".

Sea walls and promenades

In the case of Staples v Dorset (1995), Mr Staples fell some 20 feet from the old harbour wall, known as the Cobb, at Lyme Regis. At first instance he was awarded damages on the basis that the local authority should have posted warning notices with a view to preventing such incidents. The Cobb was covered in algae and seaweed, both notoriously slippery substances. In the circumstances, it was unsurprising that he fell, and the court found that the hazard was such an obvious one that there was no responsibility to erect signs and no liability under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957.

Contrast that with Collier v Anglian Water (1983). Sea defences had been constructed in the 1920s by the original Water Board on land belonging to the local authority. Although the local authority exercised a high degree of control over the promenade area on top of the sea defences, historically all responsibility for repair fell to Anglian Water. The claimant tripped over a defect to the walkway of the promenade caused by one of the concrete surface slabs having become raised slightly over time.

The court held that Anglian Water exercised sufficient control over the land to qualify as occupiers and the claim succeeded against them. However, if a local authority had had control of the area, they would have been liable.

Collier can be distinguished from Staples on the basis of the duties owed. In Staples, the court held that the hazard was a naturally occurring and quite obvious one, whereas in Collier the claimant had tripped over a defect that had arisen through lack of maintenance. Where local authorities have responsibility for the implementation, maintenance and repair of sea defences to which the public have access on their coastlines, it is important that systems of inspection and repair are implemented and adhered to. These systems will need to be tailored to take into account the levels of pedestrian traffic and general usage in a particular area. Where there is frequent public access, frequent inspections are required, but when the area is more remote, then a much more relaxed attitude can be taken.


If there is an obvious risk and a member of the public chooses to take it, then he or she must bear the consequences. The duty of a local authority would not include guarding against those risks that are so obvious as to not require explanation or warning. This would include jumping from a structure into the sea or diving into a lake where you were unaware of the depth or of any underwater obstructions.

Local authorities may wish to consider whether signs warning against the danger of, say, jumping from a sea wall are really necessary in those circumstances, although many put them up out of an abundance of caution. If, however, a local authority erects a sea diving platform it should provide a means of assessing the depth of water being dived into as the tide goes up and down.

A local authority must, however, take steps to ensure that areas for which they are responsible are maintained as far as practicable. Where promenades are concerned, this is likely to extend to a Highways Act style obligation to inspect and repair on a regular basis. However, in more remote areas, the duties are much lower. Note that if a long-standing right of way exists, a defence may exist under case law.

As patterns of public use change and hazards develop, the local authority must take early action to ensure that the public are not exposed to dangers. This might involve placing barriers or railings in busy areas to prevent people falling off a high sea wall, particularly if the problem is a recurrent one. Likewise, in the absence of complaint or accident, an authority might be justified in taking no preventative steps, again in remote areas subject to little or no visitor traffic.

This duty is a dynamic one, especially after winter months when the majority of damage to promenades will occur. A regular and documented system of monitoring is, however, likely to stand the authority in good stead when it comes to defending claims.

And finally...

But what of those unseen dangers that lurk beneath the waves abroad?

Mr and Mrs Ingram took a luxury holiday in Thailand. They paid over £6,000 for a stay at a resort run by Elegant Resorts Limited. After taking to the sea one afternoon, the claimant and his wife were set upon by shoals of jellyfish and stung repeatedly. They complained to the hotel that insufficient warning had been given to them concerning this rare natural phenomenon.

In the case before DDJ Woodcroft in the Mayors & City of London County Court, they alleged defective supply of hotel services against Elegant Resorts. The DDJ found that there had been a failure to warn about the jellyfish invasion and offer alternative accommodation despite the jellyfish swarm obviously being a freak act of nature. The subsequent appeal by Elegant was swiftly dealt with, and the Court of Appeal ordered Mr Ingram to return the £3,000 he had been awarded at first instance.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.