'If only we'd gone with them. We paid the highest price: we lost them both'

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The distraught parents of Tom and Jodi Loughlin spoke last night about the pain of coming to terms with the death of their two children.

Talking to journalists for the first time since they were informed that the children had drowned, Kevin Loughlin and Lynette Thornton, both 37, of Norwood, south London, said losing the children to the sea had been "a chance in a million" and described the feeling as the "opposite end of winning the lottery".

Jodi, six, and her four-year-old brother Tom, were last seen running excitedly towards the sea on Holme beach near Hunstanton, Norfolk, on Sunday 18 August. In the past few days both bodies were found washed up about 30 miles eastwards along the Norfolk coast.

Mr Loughlin said that a million "if onlys" had gone through the couple's minds over the past two weeks: "If only we had gone straight to the water with them, if only we had not gone to the beach ..." he said.

"With the best will in the world, I don't think there is a parent in the whole country who can honestly say that they kept their eye on their children at every moment. We paid the highest price. We lost them both.

"The only analogy we can compare it to is this. It is like the opposite end of winning the lottery."

Mr Loughlin said he and his partner had remained optimistic that the children were alive until Jodi's body was found last Friday and that they found it hard to believe that the children could have drowned.

"People will say we were probably optimistic but we honestly did feel that the only way they could have drowned was for them to run straight into the water and for something to happen straight away. I think that probably is what happened."

Ms Thornton said she had no idea how dangerous the calm sea was. "It was just so deceptive," she said. "We were duped by it."

Mr Loughlin said that the couple took some consolation in the fact that they now know what happened to the children and were relieved that Jodi and Tom's last few minutes of life had been spent joyously on Holme beach. "It does help a little because they were having fun," he said, "They were very close. They played together all of the time. At least they have died together."

The couple revealed that Tom should have been starting his first day at school tomorrow. "We hadn't actually bought all the things Tom needed for school yet," said Ms Thornton. "We thought there would be time after the holiday."

They had remained with police liaison officers in a rented cottage in west Norfolk for the past two weeks, refusing to leave until both their children's bodies had been found.

They now plan to return to their south London home where they will start to make arrangements for the funerals of Jodi and Tom. "I think our immediate plans are just getting back and trying to get back to lead some sort of normal life," Mr Loughlin said. "Whatever normal is now."