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Friday, 11 February, 2000, 15:41 GMT
Call for action after E. coli death

preen Heather Preen died after playing on beach

A coroner has made a series of recommendations to counter E. coli after an inconclusive inquest into a girl's death from the bug.

A verdict of misadventure was returned by a jury into the death of Heather Preen, who died after playing on a beach in Dawlish, Devon, last July.

It's not possible with any certainty at all to say how Heather contracted her infection
Professor Hugh Pennington
South Devon coroner Hamish Turner made a series of recommendations to control sewage discharge and dogs on the beach, though the inquest heard no clear reason for the infection could be found.

He also called for a central database to be set up so people could draw information from cases such as Heather's.

Three other children, who had also played on the beach, contracted E. coli 0157 at the same time, but survived.

Mr Turner recommended a number of moves, including:

  • an ultra violet system be installed to monitor sewage at a new outfall site in Dawlish
  • a summer time dog ban be imposed on the whole of the beach
  • a central database be set up to hold information on similar cases

The source of the outbreak was never found despite widespread checks and samples on dog, human and seagull faeces, food outlets and other potential sources including sand dunes and farm animals.


The inquest heard improvements had already been made at a Dawlish town sewer so that discharges no longer spilled over a public footpath, but went straight out to sea.

Professor Hugh Pennington, an expert on E. coli, said it was unlikely the infection had come from animal faeces or sewage. "It's not possible with any certainty at all to say how Heather contracted her infection."

Heather, from Birmingham, died at Bristol Children's Hospital on August 8 1999. She and her family had been in Dawlish for their summer holiday.

General secretary of the environmental pressure group Surfers Against Sewage, Chris Hines, said after the hearing: "Sewage was not given an adequate airing. But I am reassured that significant lessons have been learned and everybody will do things a lot better in the future."

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See also:
17 Aug 99 |  Health
E. coli victim died on holiday
24 Aug 99 |  Health
Holiday E. coli outbreak hits fourth family
27 Aug 99 |  UK
Sewage claim over E. coli death
11 Nov 99 |  Health
Dog-fouled beach linked to child death

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