A “heroic” man from Hove drowned while trying save his family’s cockapoo Connie from the sea, an inquest heard today (Tuesday 13 April).
Gareth Jones disappeared while walking Connie near Hove Lagoon on Saturday 16 January, prompting a search involving the coastguard, RNLI lifeboat crew and police as well as family and friends.
Connie’s body was recovered two days later, not far from where she went into the water, the inquest was told.
Mr Jones’s body was found at Tide Mills, on the east side of Newhaven, on Tuesday 19 January.
Detective Constable Tessa Lovell, from Sussex Police, told the inquest that a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera had filmed Mr Jones on the beach with Connie as she chased a ball.
The footage lasted less than a minute and Detective Constable Lovell said that it showed that the waves were colossal.
Brighton and Hove coroner Veronica Hamilton-Deeley said: “He was a competent swimmer but it would have made no difference.
“The state of the sea seemed out of proportion with the weather conditions.
“It all seemed to happen so quickly. Gareth goes in to rescue Connie. He was overcome almost immediately.”
At the Brighton and Hove Coroner’s Court, at Woodvale, Miss Hamilton-Deeley said that Mr Jones went into the sea almost exactly when the tide was at its highest.
And he was on a stretch of the shore with a “shelf”, she said, adding: “There’s a huge drop which catches people out. At high tide, it creates an undertow.”
The brief CCTV footage showed a big wave. Miss Hamilton-Deeley said: “What chance he had was lost when that wave came.
“In all the circumstances, you really wouldn’t have expected him to have done any different – even though you wish that he would.”
Connie the brown cockapoo was part of the family – and Miss Hamilton-Deeley said: “People say you shouldn’t go into the sea after your dog, but who wouldn’t?
“If you love your dog and she’s part of the family, of course you would. If you saw a member of your family in danger – human or otherwise – you try to help them.
“In its own way it was a heroic act.
“With great regret, I will record a verdict that Gareth died an accidental death. And if I could hold an inquest for Connie, I would draw the same conclusion for her too.”
Gareth Lloyd Jones, 69, of Wilbury Gardens, Hove, was born in Cardiff. He was a father of three and an academic, author and business executive.
Mr Jones’s partner Shirley Neal said that he could be described as a “renaissance man” – and Miss Hamilton-Deeley said: “He was obviously an amazing chap and completely irreplaceable.”
On the day of his death, he had bought food to cook for dinner with his family and was looking forward to spending the evening with them.
Miss Hamilton-Deeley added: “Everything that he did in the last hours of his life were done with complete love – love for Connie and love for his family.”
After the inquest Mr Jones’s son Robbie, 24, joined by his sisters Rhian and Gemma, said: “We just want to say what a remarkable man our dad was. We are so thankful for all the tributes that have come in.
“My sisters Rhian and Gemma both say we are all going to be more like Gareth which means say yes to things, drink lots of beer and just be kind to one another, always take up opportunities – even risky ones – and always back the underdog.”
He added that when Mr Jones’s local pub – the Watchmaker’s Arms near Hove station – reopened next month, it planned to have a beer on tap and a plaque in his memory.
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