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Channel swimming club reacts to coroner's advice following the death of West Midlands fire fighter

A club which oversees channel swimming will not be making any changes to its 'abort' advice despite a coroner calling for greater clarity after a firefighter drowned during a charity crossing.

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Iain Hughes, a crew manager at Wednesbury Fire Station, was on a solo challenge when he disappeared in front of devastated family members and the crew on a support boat from Dover on June 20 last year.

The body of the 42-year-old father of two, from Dudley, was recovered from the waters near Oostende, in Belgium on July 4. He was trying to raise £21,000 and supporters have since donated a mammoth £80,670.38 to the charities in his memory.

At the inquest Black Country Senior Coroner Zafar Siddique recorded a conclusion that Mr Hughes died as a result of misadventure and called for greater clarity around who should decide to abort swims.

In response the Channel Swimming Pilot Federation (CSPF) stated: "We have considered whether we should add any guidance to our website or to the forms to explain who can make the decision to abort a swim and when. However, we decided that this would be inappropriate for swimmers, for the reasons described in the specific section on aborting a swim set out below.

"The forms already make clear that every applicant must carry out a meaningful and considered self-assessment process for both medical and training purposes.

Iain Hughes pictured in May 2023 training with supporters.

"This is an extreme endurance activity and can never be free of risk of injury or death, it is the swimmer's sole responsibility to ensure that the he or she is fully informed and prepared for the risks and requirements entailed in the context of that swimmer's training, preparations for the swim-attempt and the swim itself, and the swimmer needs to carry out his or her own risk-assessments at every stage before and during a swim-attempt to try to responsibly identify and minimise risks."

Mr Siddique's report stated: "In my opinion there is a risk that future deaths could occur unless action is taken. In the circumstances it is my statutory duty to report to you.

"The matters of concern are as follows. I heard evidence from the pilot. He confirmed at around 30 minutes before Mr Hughes became submerged that he was concerned about progress, and that it was likely the swim would be aborted.

"It is not clear how this was communicated to the family and no action was taken to abort the swim.

Wednesbury Fire Station.

"My concern is this, this lack of clarity of who and when should make the decision to abort a swim can result in unnecessary delay and increase risk. I am told by the CSPF they have clear guidance and protocols in place and have been provided with several documents to support this.

"There is always an element of risk by the very nature of the channel crossing challenge. However, given this incident and confusion about when a swim should be aborted you may wish to review the situation further and how this is communicated to all those involved."

Mr Hughes was attempting to raise money for the British Heart Foundation, The Fire Fighters Charity and Midlands Air Ambulance, where he aimed to swim 21 miles to raise £21,000. Despite a strong start, after about 11 hours his pace slowed and he subsequently became submerged.

Following his death his devastated family stated: “Our lives were shattered when Iain went missing. He was our world."

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