Coroner concludes death of Blessing Olusegun was accidental with no way of ruling out third-party involvement

Wednesday 25 May 2022

Blessing's mother, Esther Abe, was supported by the “Justice for Blessing Campaign” and Ife Thompson of Black Protest Legal Support. She was represented before the Coroner by Paul Ham and Constance Collard of Birnberg Peirce solicitors, who instructed barristers Fatima Jichi and then Michael Etienne of Garden Court Chambers.        

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Coroner concludes death of Blessing Olusegun was accidental with no way of ruling out third-party involvement

In the words of her mother, Esther Abe, Blessing Olusegun was a “wonderful” young, black, woman. She was undoubtedly loved by those who knew her. Those who did not probably would have too, if they had had the chance. Blessing cared deeply for her family and her wider community, both here and in her birthplace of Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria. Ado-Eikiti is landlocked. For that reason, learning to swim is not a typical feature of growing up there, as Blessing had done, before moving to join her mother in the UK. Accordingly, Blessing could not swim. Early in the morning on 18 September 2020, Blessing was found dead on a beach near Galley Hill, Bexhill, a seaside town in East Sussex.

On 25 May 2022, Mr Alan Craze, the Senior Coroner for East Sussex, ruled that Blessing’s “untimely” death was an accident. That conclusion reflected a long Campaign for Justice for Blessing which had been launched by her mother, family and friends. They were concerned that there had been a failure to properly investigate the events leading to her death and an undue readiness on the part of the police to conclude that Blessing had died by suicide. They did not discount the possibility that race may have been a factor in her death and in the way that it had been investigated. That concern had added resonance given that Blessing died in a seaside town that is demographically 96% white and generally very much older than the 21 year old Blessing, who had only moved to the area to work as a live-in carer. In that context, they also did not discount the possibility that a third party may have been involved.

After a full day’s evidence, the Coroner accepted that the possibility of third party involvement still could not absolutely be discounted. He had heard that the only search of the location where Blessing was found was limited to the “immediate area” rather than the beach more widely, there was no witness appeal and the CCTV evidence was limited to parts of the route that Blessing took in walking to the beach in the early hours of the morning on which she died. These were in addition to the complications of a person’s body being found in water and the possibility of evidence being washed away. Nevertheless, the Coroner objected to some of the questioning around these issues, saying that the inquest was “not a fight between the family and the police.”   

On the evidence available to him, the Coroner’s conclusions essentially came down to one of “accident” or “suicide”. A post-mortem concluded that Blessing showed all the signs of having been overwhelmed by the sea and no evidence of injuries that the pathologist who examined her, Dr Anna Rycroft, thought suggested or were consistent with third-party involvement.

Much had been said, particularly in the evidence of the police and the pathologist, about the fact that Blessing had a history of mental illness. However, that had to be seen in its full context. That context came through clearly in the evidence of Ms Abe and the last of Blessing’s friends to have contact with her before she died, Christiana Sofolabo. They were clear: Blessing was a survivor. She survived the childhood sexual abuse that she had kept to herself for many years and she survived the acute mental illness that this had caused her. She did so by finding ways to confront the causes of her distress and the support of family, friends and her church.

The evidence of self-harm consisted principally of a paracetamol overdose in 2016 and marks of self-harm; marks which had long-since become scars – a process that the pathologist explained takes at least 6 months. Moreover, many of those scars then fell behind a tattoo of a rose and butterfly which Blessing had on one of her wrists. Christiana described them as symbolizing “love, courage and that [Blessing] had moved on.” Against that background, it was important to her friends and family that Blessing’s history of mental illness was not relied upon in a way that undermined a full and proper investigation of her death.

In reaching his conclusion of “accident”, the Senior Coroner accepted that the evidence of everyone who knew Blessing best clearly showed the happiness and hope that she had found in the years after her mental health crises. It was clear that in the weeks, months and days leading to her death, Blessing had been making plans for her future: hopefully moving on from her work as a carer, building her makeup business, nurturing a new relationship with her boyfriend and seeing more of the world. She was also a cornerstone for her family, using her income to provide support for her mother and her much-loved little brother, Prince Josiah.

Accordingly, the Coroner found that having decided to take a late-night walk to the beach – something that Ms Sofolabo’s evidence explained was not unusual - Blessing accidently came to be in the water. It was not possible to say exactly how that happened. However, he said in terms: “I accept that she had not gone in deliberately. I accept that she would not have done so, in the middle of the night, when she would not have been able to see anything and when she could not swim.”

Having reached that conclusion, he acknowledged that the efforts of “a large number of people” whose work had been key to the “preparation and learning” of the final inquest. Foremost among that number was a grieving mother, friends and family who refused to leave a stone unturned. Addressing her at the end of the hearing, and thanking her for her efforts, the Coroner paid this tribute:  

“I cannot begin to put into words the impact of Blessing’s untimely death for you and all those who have been affected. I offer you my very sincere condolences.”

Blessing is survived by her mother Esther Abe, supported at the hearing by Pastor Lola Oyedele; her younger brothers Prince Josiah and Tope; friends, including Christiana Sofolabo, Rukaya Ojewale, Thomas Adiomah, Tariro Satande and Blessing’s boyfriend, who all provided evidence to the Coroner. They are in addition to family and friends both here and abroad.    

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