A British man and his fiancée have drowned off the coast of Sicily after being swept away by strong currents as they paddled on the beach.

Company director Andrew Sturgess, 34, and Carmen Spiridon, 31, a waitress, had gone into the water despite both being non-swimmers, as the sea had been calm at the time, local police said.

Both had died by the time the coastguard was able to reach them and pull them from the sea at Tre Fontane near Campobello, southwest Sicily.

Police said they were working on the theory that one had run into trouble and the other had gone to the rescue.

The alarm was raised by a woman who saw Sturgess's body floating face down in the water.

Her screams alerted three other people on the beach who rushed into the water to retrieve Sturgess. He could not be rescuscitated.

Spiridon's lifeless body was recovered shortly afterwards. A doctor at the scene confirmed the deaths.

The couple had been due to return to their home in Stoke-on-Trent, where Sturgess ran a hydraulic company, after spending a week in Italy with Spiridon's mother.

According to police in Italy the couple had been engaged to be married.

Captain Fabio Manzo said: "We were called to the scene by passers-by who had pulled the bodies from the water but a doctor confirmed they were both deceased and nothing could be done.

"We are investigating the circumstances of their deaths and the bodies are now in the mortuary of a local hospital. We have contacted next of kin and the British authorities."

Spiridon's mother lived locally, he said, and the couple had been visiting her.

"They were on holiday with her for the week. I have been to see her and she is obviously very upset. She told me they were engaged and due to be married.

"The water was not rough at the time but from what we have established neither was a strong swimmer and there are awkward currents in the area.

"We think that perhaps one of them got into trouble and that the other tried to save them, but sadly in the end both died.

"An initial examination of the bodies shows they both drowned and did not suffer from any cramp which resulted in them drowning."

Capt Manzo said there was difficulty identifying the couple as they had no documents. A medicine bottle with Sturgess's name on it was recovered, with his home town printed on its label.

The couple were only identified when Spiridon's mother went to a local police station to report her daughter and her fiancé missing.

An Foreign Office spokesperson said: "We are aware of the death of a British National in Italy. We are providing consular assistance to the family at this difficult time."