'Irresponsible and reckless' swimming led to deaths

PUBLISHED: 09:57 28 January 2010 | UPDATED: 11:38 25 May 2010

ILL-JUDGED, irresponsible and reckless – the words used by an assistant deputy coroner to describe the deaths of two swimmers.

'ILL-JUDGED, irresponsible and reckless' - the words used by an assistant deputy coroner to describe the deaths of two swimmers.

Dave Ellams and Lee Tompkins both drowned in the Severn Estuary after an evening swim near Birnbeck Pier in Weston last June.

The inquest into their deaths was held at Flax Bourton Coroner's Court yesterday (Wed).

Family and friends of the two men listened as Dave's girlfriend, Aimee Crisp, described the moments before their deaths and their desperate screams for help before they were swept out by the tide.

Aimee said Dave, aged 34, and 33-year-old Lee had been in high spirits before stripping down for a swim at about 9.15pm.

Aimee, a barmaid who lives in Upper Kewstoke Road, said: "I didn't sense any danger - the water was calm.

"I told them to be careful though. I was quite protective over Dave but if I had told him not to go in he would have anyway because he was very stubborn."

When they went into the water on June 23 the men were accompanied by Aimee and Lee's girlfriend Emma Flinders.

The hearing heard how Lee and Dave had both swam in the same spot dozens of times before and the group of friends were very close.

They had planned to go for a swim before heading into town for a drink and were in high spirits.

A statement given by Emma Flinders was read out in court which said: "We walked through the park down to the sea and we were play fighting on the way down.

"We were all having a right laugh and rugby tackling each other to the ground."

The two men swam out towards Birnbeck Pier and then started shouting for help when they got into difficultly.

A passerby called the coastguard and the RNLI launched a search boat, but both men were swept out by the tide.

Their bodies were found a week later on June 30. Dave was found near Clevedon and was pronounced dead at Portishead Lifeboat Station. Lee was found on the other side of the channel by Barry Island Lifeboat Station's crew.

Assistant deputy coroner Tony Woodburn said: "When both men entered the sea they were not under the influence of drink or drugs.

"What appeared to be, on the face of it, a rational decision to enter the sea, was in hindsight ill-judged, irresponsible and reckless.

"They must have known there was a risk. There was an element of recklessness about what they were doing."

The medical cause of death for both men was drowning, while Mr Woodburn said they died accidentally.

Speaking after the inquest Aimee Crisp and Lee's sister Jane Toogood both renewed their call for more signs warning about the dangers of the tides.

Aimee added: "They will both be sadly missed. It is seven months on now and maybe we can start to move on, but they will never be forgotten.

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