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Beachy Head chaplains face growing challenge

20 September 2013

by Paul Donovan


Rescue work: the scene at Beachy Head on 17 July when one person is believed to have died after a car drove over the cliffs

Rescue work: the scene at Beachy Head on 17 July when one person is believed to have died after a car drove over the cliffs

THERE has been an increase in the number of people attempting suicide at the East Sussex beauty spot Beachy Head over recent months.

The Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team (BHCT), which has saved more than 2000 lives since it began operations in 2004, reported 604 searches on the cliff up to the end of August this year. Some 252 people were saved. This compares with 428 and 423 searches for the comparable period in 2012 and 2011.

In July, 76 searches were made, and 32 people were saved. In August, there were 92 searches, and 41 despondent people saved.

There were 771 searches on cliffs by the BHCT last year, and 305 despondent people were saved.

"At the current rate, we are going to reach one rescue a day dealt with by us very soon," the director of the chaplaincy team, Mark Pybus, said.

Typical of the calls received by the BCHT was an incident that occurred at 12.20 on Sunday 15 August. "The team received a request by Sussex Police to assist in a search for a missing middle-aged woman, whose car had been found at Beachy Head. The woman was found on the cliff edge by the team, after a short search, and was spoken to by BHCT chaplains and negotiators from Sussex Police.

"After approximately three hours, the female was successfully escorted to safety from the clifftop," a spokesperson for BHCT said.

The chaplaincy conducts routine searches, and is also tipped off by emergency services, coastguard, the local pub or café, or members of the public about potential suicide attempts. Not all searches result in finding a person.

 he trustees of BHCT are reluctant about giving too much detail, as in the wrong hands it could enable people to avoid the chaplaincy teams and achieve their aim of taking their own lives.

Since 2004, when the BHCT was set up, it has responded to 5868 searches and incidents, resulting in the rescue of 2129 despondent people.

The chaplaincy began with six volunteers. It now has about 20 people working for it. Team members are trained in negotiation techniques to try to establish connections with despondent people at the clifftop. As well as talking to people who appear distressed.

"We have rescued 252 people so far; so that is looking like another record year," Mr Pybus said. "It is hard to say exactly why there has been such a rise, but the recession has a part to play. Financial reasons usually have a part to play, but it is usually a number of things coming together."

The chaplaincy team is concerned that insensitive media publicity surrounding deaths at Beachy Head also encourages people to come and attempt to take their lives. They point to the case of a family who died on 1 June 2009.

Neil and Kazumi Puttick killed themselves at Beachy Head after their five-year-old son, Sam, died of meningitis. The case drew international media attention, and in the week that followed, the BHCT conducted 33 searches, saving 15 despondent people. Similar patterns have been noted with other cases.

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