Coroner calls for end to dispute over coastal stretch after man's death

Tony Rode and Carrow House, Coroner's Court composite

Tony Rode was on active duty for Coastwatch Caister when he died. - Credit: Archant

A coroner has ordered two councils to end a dispute over who manages a stretch of the Norfolk coast after a volunteer died while cutting grass on the dunes.

Tony Rode, who was remembered as a "kind and loving family man", died while on duty at Coastwatch Caister on July 24, 2021.

The last photo taken of Tony Rode. He is with his dog, Poppy.

The last photo taken of Tony Rode. - Credit: Sally Rode

The 74-year-old used his own strimmer to cut grass on sand dunes next to the Coastwatch office on Second Avenue, an inquest at Norwich Coroners Court heard on Tuesday.

The grass on the dunes had grown to such a height it was restricting the view from the hut down to the beach.

While strimming, Mr Rode fell down a bank onto a concrete path below, sustaining injuries which led to his death.

His death was concluded as accidental.

But Norfolk coroner Jacqueline Lake raised concerns over an ongoing dispute between Great Yarmouth Borough Council (GYBC) and Caister Parish Council regarding the responsibility of grass cutting on the dunes.

Norfolk Coroner's Court at Carrow House. Photo: Antony Kelly

Norfolk Coroner's Court at Carrow House. Photo: Antony Kelly - Credit: Archant

Ms Lake said: "Caister Parish Council state that the bank is part of the sea defences and so is the responsibility of the Great Yarmouth Borough Council.

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"Great Yarmouth Borough Council state the land belongs to the Parish Council and so is their responsibility.

"As a result, neither organisation has taken responsibility for this section of coastline and the grass on the dunes has grown to such a height as to obscure the view of the Coastwatch volunteers along the beach.

"In this case, it has resulted in a volunteer making the decision to cut the grass himself in circumstances when it was not safe to do so.

"In my opinion there is a risk that future deaths could occur unless action is taken."

Mr Rode's widow Sally said: "It will be a fitting memorial for Tony if these two councils can come to an agreement within the time given."

A GYBC spokesperson said: “We offer our condolences to Mr Rode’s family, and we pay tribute to his dedication in helping watch over Caister beach.

“Coastal land ownership can be very complex as much of the land has never been formally registered.

"However, we take on board the coroner’s comments and we will be carefully reviewing the situation so that, alongside Caister Parish Council, we can take appropriate steps to improve safety in this area.”

Caister Parish Council has been contacted for comment.