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Death of Herne Bay man Warren Ullyett puzzles investigators

By Jack Dyson

On November 13 last year Warren Ullyett was reported missing by his concerned mother.

Four weeks later the 28-year-old’s body was found washed up on a beach, 43 miles away in Sangatte, near Calais.

Reporter Jack Dyson reveals how the circumstances of his death have left detectives on both sides of The Channel stumped...

As temperatures dropped close to freezing on a cold December afternoon, the body of a man was discovered by a French dog walker, washed up on the beach at Sangatte, near Calais.

Badly decomposed, he was topless and wearing just a pair of boots and jeans, revealing distinctive tattoos on his arms and back.

In his pocket were a passport, wallet and bank document, protected from the elements by two sealable plastic bags.

They belonged to Canterbury-born Warren Ullyett, a 28-year-old labourer last seen in Herne Bay a month before.

Police checks would later reveal the recently issued passport had not been scanned by border control, while Mr Ullyett’s bank card had not been used for months.

The body was later confirmed to be that of 6ft 7ins Mr Ullyett, whose height earned him the nickname Hightower.

But because of decomposition, pathologists were unable to say how he had died, with authorities having to identify him through descriptions of his tattoos.

Warren Ullyett
Warren Ullyett

Investigations on both sides of The Channel also repeatedly hit dead-ends, with detectives failing to establish how Mr Ullyett ended up on a French beach on December 12, 43 miles from his home town.

An inquest into his death on Thursday heard he was reported missing by his mother, Rani Ullyett, on November 13 last year.

She had last seen him 11 days before, getting into a car in Herne Bay with his friend Harley Woods.

Police treated his disappearance as “low-risk”, telling the hearing in Maidstone how he had no history of mental health issues.

DS Gary Stamp also revealed how their enquiries were hampered by the reluctance of Mr Ullyett’s friends to engage with the investigation.

“The main people who were thought to hold information did not want to talk to us,” he explained.

“Harley Woods was extremely evasive; his only recollection was Warren went out for a walk and did not return in early November.”

DS Stamp said another of Mr Ullyett’s friends “would not engage in conversation and shouted at us” when officers initially tried to speak to her.

Warren Ullyett photographed at his father's funeral in 2016
Warren Ullyett photographed at his father's funeral in 2016

Police also conducted door-to-door enquiries across Herne Bay at fish and chip shops, pubs, barbers and tattoo parlours.

“He was very popular and everybody knew him, but nobody could say they saw Warren,” DS Stamp continued.

“No one indicated something untoward was happening in his life.

“We received the report of when he went missing and when Warren was found on the beach and have little in between.

“We do not know where or when he entered the water or the circumstances explaining how he entered the water.”

DS Stamp said a friend had mentioned Mr Ullyett, of Hampton Close, Herne Bay, enjoyed open-water swimming and that it was his ambition to cross The Channel.

However, his mother questioned the accuracy of the claims, stating: “He liked swimming, but I wouldn’t have said he would have wanted to swim The Channel. He was fit, but not that fit.”

DS Stamp said officers discounted this as a reason for Mr Ullyett being in the sea because he was wearing boots and jeans.

The beach in Sangatte, Calais, where Mr Ullyett's body was found
The beach in Sangatte, Calais, where Mr Ullyett's body was found

It is thought Mr Ullyett’s disappearance may have been linked to the discovery of an empty 12-person boat in Folkestone, which police believe had been used to traffic drugs or people overseas.

Lifeguards found a folded shirt and jumper in it which, according to DS Stamp, “were placed in such a way to keep them dry” two days after Mr Ullyett was reported missing.

However, the clothes were photographed and then disposed of before police arrived, so tests were unable to be carried out to determine if they belonged to him.

Assistant coroner Katrina Hepburn said “there was no evidence linking him to the boat” as she delivered her open verdict.

She added: “Due to the body being in the water for so long, the French and British couldn’t come up with a cause of death.

“I have no evidence to tell what he died of. I do not know how he entered the water, where he entered the water or why he entered the water.

“I do not know why he died. It is with regret that I have to reach this conclusion.”

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