THE heartbroken family of a North East man who drowned while trying to save his beloved pet have paid their heartfelt tributes.

Paul Lebihan, 25, tragically died on Monday, May 9, after getting into difficulty in the Bolulla River near Benidorm in Spain.

The amateur boxer from Gateshead had been visiting the country to see his fiancee, who he had previously met on holiday around a year ago.

Read more: Man in court over alleged stabbing at North East hospital

Paying tribute, his family described the events leading up to the tragedy as they said they had been left in a state of shock.

He was the happiest I’d seen him.

Mr Lebihan’s cousin Kallym Bell, 19, said he was “the happiest he’d ever been” after meeting his partner in Spain and travelling there regularly to visit her.

He said: “I called him to catch up and he was asking me to come over for a holiday there. I wish I had now.

“He was the happiest I’d seen him. He didn’t feel like it could get any better for him.”

Mr Bell said Mr Lebihan died after seeing his pet struggling in the river, which is close to the popular Fonts de l’Algar nature reserve in Costa Blanca.

Read more: Sunderland getting a Burger King back - and it's going to be bigger than ever

He said: “He saw the dog struggling and drowning, getting pulled in there by the current. He jumped in to save it and unfortunately passed himself.”

He said the family is “in shock” following the tragedy, with Mr Lebihan’s parents Deborah and Paul Snr flying to Spain to collect their son’s body."

A GoFundMe page has since been set up to help his family with the costs of flying him home and his funeral.

Mr Bell said: “We’re trying to stick together as much as we can and I started the GoFundMe page because I don’t want them to have the burden of raising that much money to bring him back.

“Even when they get him back they’ve got to pay for the funeral, which is very expensive as it is.

“It raised over £9,000 in 36 hours since going up, which just shows how much he was loved and how much of a positive impact he had.”

The pair grew up in a close-knit family in Leam Lane, Gateshead, and Mr Bell said Mr Lebihan was “more like a big brother”.

“He was completely selfless and lived life to the full. Everything he did was just how he wanted to do it,” he added.

To view the GoFundMe page click here


Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also follow our dedicated County Durham Facebook page for all the latest in the area by clicking here.

For all the top news updates from right across the region straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on or contact 01325 505054