Published: 16:53, 09 September 2019
| Updated: 18:32, 09 September 2019
Two lifelong friends were both at least 14 times over the drug-drive limit when the car they were travelling in crashed into a stretch of water, an inquest has heard.
Harry Skilton and Beth Eves, from Maidstone, both drowned in the early hours of May 18 when a Mini Cooper, owned by the latter, crashed into what is known as the Dengemarsh Sewer in Lydd.
The friends, both 21, each had alcohol and cocaine in their systems and had both been driving the car at points during the evening.
Giving a conclusion of road traffic collision, coroner Katrina Hepburn told an inquest at the Archbishop’s Palace in Maidstone she was unable to determine for certain who was driving prior to their deaths, but said Miss Eves was “likely” to have been behind the wheel at the time.
The court was told how a group of friends were staying together at a caravan park for a gathering hosted by mutual friend Toby Patey-Ford on the evening of May 17.
Beth had travelled down in her Mini Cooper, while Harry made the trip with another friend, Ryan Brett.
At some point in the early hours there was a decision made that Toby, Beth, Harry and Ryan would drive around the site.
Harry, who was behind the wheel at the time, then told the group they were going for "a proper drive" at which point Toby got out.
The three of them then arrived at a gate which needed a code to exit.
Harry got out the car to put in the code, at which point Beth slid over from the front passenger seat to the driver's seat.
Mr Brett told the inquest he couldn't recall a discussion between the pair about switching positions.
From that point, the court was told, the evidence is unclear as to who the driver was.
"Police cannot say, even though they have done a number of investigations into this," Ms Hepburn said.
The car then left through the gate and travelled a short distance before coming to a crossroads.
It then hit a post and went off into a field before reaching a ditch filled with water, with the vehicle ending up upside-down.
Mr Brett was able to get out and tried to free his friends before calling for help, which arrived just before 4am.
A joint operation between police, paramedics and fire crews tried to get them out and both Beth and Harry were eventually removed from the back of the car.
They were taken to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford but were both pronounced dead later that morning.
Ms Hepburn concluded: "I find it likely they were knocked out trying to get out and were moving around in the car.
"On the balance of probabilities I find it more likely Beth was driving the car and accept evidence from Mr Brett there was a change of driver.
"I must be clear, I am not looking at blame, just trying to understand what has happened.
"It seems likely Beth was driving the vehicle which hit a post, went into the water and sadly led to the loss of their lives.
"This inquest in no way goes to explain what they were like as people. It's a tragic case. Please can I give my sincere condolences to all the family and friends who have attended."
A statement on behalf of Miss Eves' family described the creative designer, who worked at Google, as someone who believed there was good in everyone.
It said: "It is sad that whatever makes a headline today is not what we want our girl to be remembered for.
"She was creative, loved playing the piano, the guitar, writing poetry, singing at open mic nights, but above all she had a heart of gold - always going out of her way to help those less fortunate than herself.
"An example of this is when she went out on Christmas Eve and gave Happy Meals to everyone that was sleeping on the streets that night."
The statement added: "As a family, we are extremely proud of Beth and although today has brought closure to a 'process' for us, it is heartbreaking and tragic that we have lost our daughter, who was also a granddaughter, sister, niece and cousin.
"This is something that we will never get over and our lives will never ever be the same."
Heartfelt tributes were also paid to Mr Skilton, who was a horticulture student at Hadlow College.
Mum Raine said after his death: "Harry was a beautiful, kind generous and fun loving son and brother who lived more in his 21 years than most people do in a lifetime.
"He was a bright, young star who was too good for this world and always had a smile on his face which would light up a room when he walked in.
"Everyone who knew him loved him but none more than us, his devastated family left with a huge gaping hole which will never be filled."
More by this authorTom Pyman