Coroner wants clarity on aborting Channel swims

Ian Hughes at a swimming event
Iain Hughes, 42, was a crew manager at West Midlands Fire Service [Ian Hughes]

A coroner has called for greater clarity around who should decide to abort swims across the English Channel after a firefighter drowned during a crossing attempt.

Iain Hughes, from Dudley, started the solo charity challenge with a support boat from Dover in June 2023 before disappearing. His body was found in waters near Belgium on 4 July.

The senior coroner for the Black Country has sent a prevention of future deaths report to the Channel Swimming Pilot Federation (CSPF) and the pilot of the support boat.

In it, Zafar Siddique states that confusion about who, and when, the decision is made to abort a swim can result in unnecessary delay and increase risk.

The boat's pilot had concerns about the firefighter's progress in the water 30 minutes before he became submerged, stated the report.

However, it was not clear how this was communicated to the family and no action was taken to abort the swim.

The briefing prior to the challenge was described as fragmented, with the individual - whose name is redacted in the report - also stating she did not recall any discussion of Mr Hughes' safety checks, warning signs and when the swim would be aborted.

The 42-year-old was more than 11 hours into the challenge when he became submerged in the water.

The coroner acknowledged that there was always an element of risk in a Channel crossing challenge, and that the CSPF have clear guidance and protocols in place.

But due to this incident and "confusion" about when a swim should be aborted, the coroner has suggested there should be a further review of this guidance and how it is communicated.

The CSPF facilitates and adjudicates Channel crossing attempts and also provides assistance to swimmers.

Mr Hughes' inquest ended in February 2024, with the coroner concluding his death was misadventure.

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