Riddle of sands haunts parents as post-mortem confirms the worst

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The Independent Online
Within the confines of their rented cottage in west Norfolk, the parents of Jodi and Tom Loughlin were last night preparing to come to terms with life without their two children.

The last vestiges of hope for the couple were dashed as a post-mortem examination of the body of a young boy found on Sheringham beach on Sunday confirmed it was that of their four-year-old son, Tom.

As the couple prepared to head home to Norwood, south London, they were nowhere nearer discovering what exactly happened that fateful Sunday on Holme beach, when Jodi and Tom ran through crowds of families towards the sea.

Over the past two weeks, the press and public have pondered a tragedy that has stirred the hearts of the nation. The same unfathomable questions have been thrown up again and again, as people have tried to solve what has been termed the "riddle of the sands".

How could the two children have wandered so far in just five minutes, which was the time their parents said they were out of sight? Why at no point did they call their children's names or, more surprisingly, why didn't they ask anyone if they had seen them? How could there have been so much confusion over the spot where the family was?

Within hours of the children disappearing the tidal experts were drawing their own conclusions. One coastguard said the two children could have stumbled into one of a number of channels etched into the sands at Holme, which were deceptively deep. A child could quickly find himself up to his neck in water. Others said a strong gust of wind could have blown them into the waves.

But eyewitnesses say the sea was as "calm as a millpond" that day and that the children could not have been swept out to sea.

For Colin Sturman, district controller of Great Yarmouth Coastguard, who helped with the search, the disappearance of Jodi and Tom will remain an eternal mystery:

"It was flat calm that evening," recalls Mr Sturman. "There were no strong winds, there was no heavy surf, it was totally benign.

"To this day, the only possible scenario I can imagine is that the children went on to a sandbank and were cut off by the sea as the tide came in."

Another factor was the volume of people on the beach that day. The sands were particularly busy that weekend because Hunstanton was celebrating its 150th anniversary. Thousands of holidaymakers crowded the beach and it would have been easy to lose sight of a young child among the mass of bodies.

It seems odd that not one person on the beach that day saw the two children by themselves or heard a single cry for help. As the quiet Norfolk resort of Holme next the Sea returns to normality again this week, the truth behind the tragic deaths seems doomed to be confined to the waves of the Wash.