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Parents of Eddie Jarman, 14, killed by speedboat in Tahiti give first shatteringly raw interview

Four weeks ago, 14-year-old music scholar Eddie Jarman swam with his younger sister Amelie in the warm, clear waters of the South Pacific to make a video for their grandmother. It was, they marvelled, ‘like paradise’.

But within a few brief hours, this exceptional teenager was dead, killed by a rented speedboat while snorkelling near the family’s yacht off the French Polynesian island of Moorea, a few miles from Tahiti.

Ten days ago, Eddie, whose talent and hard work had won him a prestigious music scholarship to the private Hurstpierpoint College, was buried in the churchyard in the Sussex village of West Hoathly, where he grew up.

His father Harry, 55, a visual effects artist, and mother Barbara Genda, 46, a furniture designer, hoped the funeral would bring a peace of sorts. But such is the terrible restiveness of inconsolable grief, they can find none.

Last week, they returned to Tahiti with 13-year-old Amelie to the yacht that gave them such joy for the best part of a two-year round-the-world voyage.

‘After it happened, I said to Harry, ‘I’ll never set foot on that boat again’,’ says Barbara, who is in so many pieces you fear she will never be able to put herself back together.

Four weeks ago, 14-year-old music scholar Eddie Jarman was killed by a rented speedboat while snorkelling near the family's yacht off the French Polynesian island of Moorea, a few miles from Tahiti

Four weeks ago, 14-year-old music scholar Eddie Jarman was killed by a rented speedboat while snorkelling near the family’s yacht off the French Polynesian island of Moorea, a few miles from Tahiti

‘But after a little while, I went back while we waited for them to release Eddie’s body and thought, ‘this boat is filled with him. I can see him everywhere — where he was happy’.

‘That’s why we’ve gone back because I believe his spirit and his soul is still here and I want to be near him.’ Barbara’s face is wet with tears.

‘I love my husband but I love my son more. We understood each other. We cared about each other. He was my soulmate. How often can you say that about your children?’

Amelie goes to her mother and rests her head on her shoulder: ‘Mummy, you’ve been calling me Eddie,’ she says, before adding: ‘I was never as good as Eddie. I play the harp, piano and saxophone but he was more gifted.’

It is an impossibly sad moment. Indeed, this family’s grief is so raw, I wonder if they want some time to gather their thoughts. It is less than a fortnight since they buried their gifted son, who, as well as playing the piano, violin and double bass, was an academic high-achiever and keen environmentalist. But the Jarmans are determined to give this interview.

‘We’re not revisiting these painful memories for pleasure,’ says Barbara. ‘We’re doing it for him. Eddie was special. He is special. I know he would have had an amazing life and done truly amazing things, so we want to live that life for him.’

The Jarmans have set up the Eddie Jarman Young Musicians Trust Fund to help talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds in the UK and French Polynesia pay for music tuition and the hire or purchase of instruments. To date, they have raised more than £40,000.

‘Eddie developed into a sensitive human through music,’ says Barbara. ‘He’d always go off and play with other cruisers or put on a concert for locals in remote islands like San Blas and Gambier.

‘We often sat mesmerised by how much emotion he put into his playing. I’d love to be able to give that joy to other children and parents — but it was achieved by hard work.’

Barbara, a dynamic woman who runs the household with, she says, ‘an iron fist’, was on a train commuting when she first toyed with the idea of sailing across the world.

‘We’d just gone through years of refurbishing our house. We put heart and soul into it but also a lot of money. What with the children’s school fees — which we were always pushed to pay — we were feeling like hamsters on a wheel.

‘That’s when I wondered, ‘Why don’t we sell the house and go sailing?’ We used to go on flotilla sailing holidays each year to Greece. The children loved it. Sailing across the world would be an adventure for the whole family.’

The idea took root over the next few months. They put their £1 million house up for sale and, within ten days of handing over the keys in November 2018, moved on board their three-cabin yacht.

Harry, a practised sailor, chose the 55ft Discovery because of its reputation for being reliable and safe.

‘The first six months were the hardest,’ says Barbara. ‘It tested all our relationships because you’re living on top of each other 24 hours a day.

‘In the end you have to find a way. On ocean passages, we’d start school at 9am. At 1pm, I’d cook lunch. Then they’d do their own thing — music practice, read or watch a video, play chess, swim.

‘When it got dark, we’d lie there and stargaze. That was Eddie’s favourite thing, stargazing. We had discussions about things like overpopulation, divine powers, the rights and wrongs in the world.

‘Eddie had his life planned out. He was telling us almost daily how he was going to build his own yacht and sail the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.’

The family were 18 months into this remarkable adventure when their son’s life was so cruelly cut short.

‘We anchored in that bay because I wanted to be somewhere we could get the internet,’ says Barbara ‘My mother had just had an operation — I needed to know she had survived.

‘Eddie wanted to be out doing something. He said: ‘It’s such a beautiful day. If you’re all going to sit on your computers, I’m going to check on the anchor and see whether there’s any interesting fish to see.’

‘I said, ‘Don’t go too far’. He said ‘I’ll just be around the boat’.’

Harry, who remained in the cockpit to clear away the plates from a light lunch, happened to see a speedboat pass close to their yacht in a bay that was packed with families having fun, swimming and snorkelling.

‘I remember looking at it, thinking, ‘You’re going too fast and too close to the boat’. It was a 90-horsepower speedboat and this man, with a young girlfriend, was showing off to friends, splashing our yacht with his wake. I didn’t really think about it. I took some stuff down into the saloon.

His father Harry (left), 55, a visual effects artist, and mother Barbara Genda (right), 46, a furniture designer, hoped the funeral would bring a peace of sorts. Pictured centre: sister Amelie, 13

His father Harry (left), 55, a visual effects artist, and mother Barbara Genda (right), 46, a furniture designer, hoped the funeral would bring a peace of sorts. Pictured centre: sister Amelie, 13

‘The windows were open. We heard a woman’s voice shouting, ‘Monsieur, monsieur’. We went up on deck. The same speedboat I’d seen go past was now turned around and near our boat, in neutral. To our horror, we could see the lady was holding . . .’

Barbara interrupts: ‘It wasn’t horror initially . . .’

Harry, who is by nature a mild-mannered man, raises his voice. ‘It was horror. She was holding our son in the water.’

‘Sweetie,’ Barbara insists. ‘We saw a woman and I thought, ‘Maybe she needs something. Maybe she’s hurt’. I was trying to figure it out . . .’

‘Well,’ says Harry, ‘I was on the deck and I saw . . .’

‘Did you see it right away?’ asks Barbara. And you realise how fresh this tragedy is.

‘Yes,’ says Harry. ‘I saw our son unconscious. He was a limp body. Obviously wounded. You could see his head was injured. There was blood in the water.’

Barbara interrupts. ‘She was holding his body. I think my brain just didn’t let me . . .’ She sobs.

‘When I realised it was Eddie, I screamed. I saw he had a cut in his side. I tried to think whether there were any vital organs there. There was a lot of blood in the water. Amelie started screaming. I was shaking. I tried to scream to the man to throw me a line. He was completely shocked and they were drifting off.’

Harry says: ‘Seconds after I’d seen the boat go past, it would have ridden over our son in the water at speed. He would have hit the outboard engine, which is like a knife, and it sliced through the back of his neck.’

They called ‘Mayday’. Lowered the dinghy. Followed the speedboat, which was being towed to the beach.

‘When we got to shore, there was a fire brigade trying to resuscitate him but I think his injuries were far too extensive for first aid. I had to physically hold Barbara back,’ says Harry.

Barbara looks tearfully at her husband. ‘I wanted to hold his legs, his feet. Any part of him,’ she says.

‘Amelie and I were kneeling by his feet. I said to her, ‘Let’s breathe on his feet. Maybe we can breathe some life into him’.’

Harry shakes his head. ‘It was a fairly hopeless situation.’

‘They wanted to stop resuscitation,’ Barbara says. ‘We begged them to keep going. They couldn’t understand us. I screamed at Amelie, We’ll take over’. Then I managed to find a number for some friends we’d met in Tahiti who were doctors. Eddie surfed with their children.

‘I gave the phone to the people who were trying to resuscitate him. She told them to continue and called a local doctor. An ambulance arrived to take Eddie to hospital. I sat in the front.

‘They couldn’t bear to look at me. I was begging them to save him. They knew he was dead.

‘I think I knew in my heart he was gone. He had a big cut here,’ — she points to her side — ‘and a big cut at the back of his neck, which would probably have severed his spinal cord.’

Harry scrolls through his phone. ‘That’s the RIB [rigid inflatable boat] that drove over him.’

He enlarges a photograph taken on the beach. ‘Look, you can see our boat moored in the background and that’s the ambulance people doing their thing.’

I realise they are tending to Eddie, who is on the sand.

‘You see that man sitting in the background — the local chap with long hair? That’s the boat driver.’ Harry’s voice hardens. ‘You could tell he was shocked. I went up to him and asked how they hit Edward. He said it was with the motor. The outboard motor has a sharp piece on the front that would probably have sliced straight through his neck.’

At the hospital, doctors continued trying to resuscitate Eddie. ‘They did it for me,’ says Barbara. ‘They couldn’t restart his heart. They said, ‘Look, it’s been an hour. His brain . . .’

‘I went outside, where Amelie and Harry were waiting. It was getting dark. I said, ‘He’s gone’.’

We met in the grounds of a friend’s house in Sussex, where the Jarmans were staying while they buried their son. Because of social distancing rules, only 30 relatives and close friends were allowed at his funeral, so those who hold this family dear gathered in the lanes to pay their respects as Eddie’s coffin passed.

Strangers and friends alike have overwhelmed the Jarmans with their kindness. Indeed, throughout our interview, a stream of people arrive with food and offers of help. They will do whatever they can to ease the family’s pain.

‘It gets harder, not easier,’ says Barbara. ‘It’s things like I keep taking out four plates for supper.Then I catch myself, tell myself, ‘No, we’re only three . . .’ ‘

The lunchtime sun has gone and it is getting chilly, so Harry brings his wife a jumper. She is wearing the thin but colourful dress she wore to her son’s funeral.

‘I bought it when we leaving Tahiti to come home,’ she says. ‘I’d gone past the shop with Eddie and he said, ‘Ooh, that’s a pretty dress. You’d look nice in it.’ I told him I wasn’t spending $100 on a dress. We could have eaten on that sort of money for two weeks.

‘He said, ‘You’re right but you’d look nice in it.’ So I bought it to wear to his funeral.’

A post mortem, carried out in Tahiti before Eddie’s body was flown home three weeks ago, stated the cause of death as ‘blood loss and cranial injuries’.

This week, a manslaughter inquiry will seek to determine whether the motorboat was exceeding the speed limit at the time of the accident.

‘I wanted to get him cremated so our friends [mostly in the yachting community] would be able to take part in honouring Eddie’s life, then we could bring his ashes back to the UK,’ says Barbara. ‘But you can’t cremate anyone in French Polynesia.’

She continues: ‘They gave him a surfers’ send-off, when they paddle out on surfboards, form a circle and throw flowers into the water. That went viral.

‘On the Saturday after his accident, people gathered on almost every island of French Polynesia to remember our son. They even made a little raft and sent it off in California, and paddled out on boards in Fiji, Panama, Mexico, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Ecuador, the Med and England.

‘You think, ‘Maybe if we hadn’t gone sailing, this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe if we hadn’t gone to that anchorage. Maybe if I’d had internet connection where we’d been that morning.’

‘When we went into the bay we had three choices: forward, left or right. We went left. And maybe if I’d asked Eddie to do the dishes, he would have been alive.

‘What I am grateful for is the time we had together on the boat because we grew so close.

‘Now we want my remarkable son to live on by spreading the love of music in his name.’

Donations can be made to Eddie Jarman Young Musicians Trust Fund at www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/eddie-jarman

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