Hopes fade for Jake as girl spots 'body in the sea'

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The Independent Online

As more than 100 people continued to comb the Norfolk coast yesterday, searchers admitted that any hope of finding five-year-old Jake Parker alive were now "extremely slim".

As more than 100 people continued to comb the Norfolk coast yesterday, searchers admitted that any hope of finding five-year-old Jake Parker alive were now "extremely slim".

The prospect of locating him appeared even more bleak when it was revealed that an 11-year-old girl and her younger brother believed they had spotted the body of a young boy floating in the sea.

As Jake's family waited with increasing foreboding, his parents, Kevin and Debbie Parker, continued to hold out hope that someone would come forward with information about his whereabouts. "The sooner Jake is found, the better for the whole family," they said.

Yesterday, local volunteers were among dozens of people combing the beach around Brancaster, Norfolk, where the small boy disappeared on Sunday around lunchtime.

A helicopter from RAF Wattisham continued to search the coastal waters, along with lifeboats and police divers.

"We have to be realistic now," said Peter Furlong, coastguard sector manager for North Norfolk, adding: "The chances of a little boy surviving in the water for all this time are negligible."

Jake, described by family friends as a well-behaved, happy-go-lucky boy, had been visiting from Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, with his parents, sister Lauren, aged 9, and other family members.

His aunt had been watching him and merely turned her back momentarily as he paddled barefoot in shallow water off the packed beach.

Chief superintendent Mike McCormack said he was keeping an open mind but there was nothing to indicate Jake had been abducted. He added that two children near the beach on Sunday had seen an "object (which) would seem to be a small child who was wearing similar clothing to what Jake was wearing at the time".

Gareth May, 20, an Old Hunstanton lifeguard, explained it would be easy for a child to be swept out to sea.

"The beaches and the sea conditions on this part of the coast are extremely dangerous," he said. "When the tide is out, it is often hundreds of yards from the shore line and it looks idyllic. But the tides come in quickly.

"We have been saying for years that we need more lifeguard stations along the coastline - but it is all a matter of funding."

Only four years ago, Jodi Loughlin, aged six, and her brother Tom, aged four, were swept out to sea at nearby Holme next the sea. Their bodies washed up almost two weeks later.

Norfolk attracts £520m of tourist revenue each year, particularly to its picturesque - yet treacherous - coastline.

But it was revealed yesterday that permanent coastguards are based only on the bigger beaches at Hunstanton, Great Yarmouth, Wells, Cromer and Sheringham during the summer months.

Lifeguards are paid for by local councils, which have argued in the past that it would be impractical to station someone at every isolated spot of the coastline, which stretches for almost 100 miles.

Yet some of the other beaches, such as Brancaster - where a sign warns of incoming tides and currents - become packed in the summer months.

Yesterday 11 other children were reported missing before being found. "There are lots of nooks and crannies along the sandy coast. It is not just easy for children to get lost, it is a positive attraction for them," said one local.

John Dobson, a retired Army officer who represents Brancaster on North Norfolk District Council, said: "We have a huge expanse of coast in Norfolk and it is just not possible to have lifeguards on every single beach.

"We already have signs pointing out the dangers. It is very sad that we have these tragedies - but we cannot do any more than drawing the public's attention to the risks."

Last night Norfolk police said their search would continue throughout the night and into tomorrow morning.