Perils of cliffs where nine-year-old girl died in rock fall were known to locals

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Villagers living close to where a nine-year-old died in a rock fall by a beach have said the cliffs there are notoriously unstable.

The girl, who has not been named, died when she was hit by falling debris from the 150ft cliffs in the picturesque seaside village of Staithes, in North Yorkshire.

It is understood the youngster was visiting Staithes with her mother when the tragedy happened on Wednesday, just on the other side of the sea wall to the harbour, at the eastern of the village.

The scene was around 100m beyond a prominent red sign, screwed to the rock face, which warns of the dangers of the cliffs.

Girl dies in rock fall
General view of Staithes,(Owen Humphreys/PA)

One woman described how she challenged a family picnicking right under the sign only to be told it was just a “few pieces of shingle” likely to come down.

A woman who has had a house in the village for more than 30 years said local people knew not to go too close to the cliffs as minor collapses were common.

But she added: “How do you tell everyone who comes? It’s just not possible.”

Girl dies in rock fall
A prayer and floral tribute at the Mission Church of St Peter the Fisherman in Staithes, North Yorkshire (Owen Humphreys/PA)

One cottage in the village has recently showed dramatic movement, with the home-owner having to leave through a window after hearing a loud crack, she said.

The woman said she was on the beach, which was “teeming with people” on Wednesday afternoon.

“I was on there with my grandchildren and we left just before this happened,” she said.

“It is absolutely terrible what’s happened. Fortunately, we had walked the other way.”

Girl dies in rock fall
A sign on the beach at Seaton Garth in Staithes, (Owen Humphreys/PA)

“They did a terrific job, all of them,” she said.

Other people on the beach at the time described how ambulances and fire engines were crammed between the old fishermen’s cottages and the beach.

They described how people scattered, leaving their belongings where they were as an air ambulance landed on the small beach within the harbour walls.

Another helicopter landed on the cliff tops, they said, and the Staithes lifeboat was launched.

Katie Swart, visiting with her family from the Lake District, said: “It’s just terrible. So sad.”

Girl dies in rock fall
The beach at Seaton Garth in Staithes (Owen Humphreys/PA)

“It doesn’t bear thinking about. What an absolute tragedy.”

North Yorkshire Police said the girl died after suffering serious head injuries at around 4.45pm on Wednesday.

A spokesman said: “Sadly, despite the efforts of the emergency services, the girl died at the scene from her injuries.”

“The beach was reopen on Wednesday afternoon and some people laid flowers on the harbour wall, close to the scene.”

Girl dies in rock fall
A sign on the beach warns of the dangers (Owen Humphreys/PA)

And St Peter’s Church, in the centre of the village, opened for people who wanted to contemplate what happened.

Inside was a candle, a books of poems and a tribute which read: “Please remember in your prayers the young girl who died on Wednesday in a tragic accident.

“Remember also all her family and all affected by this incident.”

It is not the first rock fall tragedy to happen along the British coastline.

In June 2015, Georgina Le Fjord died after she was hit on the head by a rock falling from a cliff on a beach at Llantwit Major, between Swansea and Cardiff on the Glamorgan coast and, three years earlier, 22-year-old Charlotte Blackman died after being buried by tonnes of rock following the collapse of a cliff on a beach in Dorset.

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