A woman and a man found dead floating face down in a hotel swimming pool had been celebrating her 22nd birthday with a romantic break, the woman’s grandmother said tonight.
Theresa Farma, 61, said that her granddaughter Josephine Newahun Foday, 22, and Komba Kpakiwa, 31, had gone away together for the weekend to the Down Hall Country House Hotel in Hatfield Heath, Hertfordshire, on the Essex border, where they died on Saturday evening.
An inquest which opened into the two unexplained deaths at Chelmsford Coroner’s Court heard that witnesses had seen both of them alive 15 minutes before they were found drowned in the hotel’s 10m-long pool at around 7.30pm. But what caused the pair to drown remains a mystery.
Theresa Farma said shop manager Mr Kpakiwa – who is reported to have been a married father of two children – had planned the getaway to surprise his student girlfriend. Speaking from her home in Plumstead, south-east London, which she shared with her granddaughter, Miss Farma said she had recently been introduced to Mr Kpakiwa.
“I met him here at my house,” Miss Farma said. “He was very nice. The birthday trip was a surprise.”
Miss Farma said her granddaughter moved to England from Sierra Leone in 2001. “She was a lovely girl, happy and smiley. She was very quiet, she went to church and did not drink alcohol or smoke. She wanted to be a nurse. To help people.”
The deaths came as the hotel, which sits in 110 acres of grounds, was due to stage a “murder mystery” weekend. Guests said they had thought the police investigation was “part of the build up”.
Essex Police have interviewed guests from two wedding parties held at the hotel at the weekend. They have also ordered “routine” toxicology tests to determine whether the deceased had been drinking. The court was told that Mr Kpakiwa, from Erith in south London, had gone to the pool after going out during the day.
He had changed in his room in the hotel before going to the pool, where he was seen by another guest with Ms Newahun Foday. They were both pulled from the water but could not be revived.
The coroner’s officer told the court: “Ms Newahun Foday had been shopping during the day and had returned to the hotel. She went to her room for a change of clothes and then went to the pool area.”
Essex Police have said a provisional post-mortem examination had found that their deaths were consistent with drowning and were not being treated as suspicious. Chris Falcus, the hotel manager, said the post-mortem’s initial findings of drowning “puts an end to inappropriate speculation about our facilities”.
He added: “We wish to reiterate our condolences to the friends and families of the lady and gentleman concerned. Both myself and the team at the hotel are deeply upset by what has happened.” The inquest was adjourned.