Royal Navy sailors tell inquest of their horror as their colleague collapsed form heart attack during training run
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Decorated Acting Petty Officer Ian Fleming died from a cardiac episode on the first day of a ‘mentally and physically challenging’ four-week programme.
The APO, who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and had been awarded numerous medals, collapsed 'in the early stages' of a jogging exercise at HMS Collingwood, in Fareham.
The second day of the inquest into APO Fleming's death heard from fellow sailors on the leadership course.
Before training commenced, APO Fleming - known as ‘Paddy’ - had been seen to struggle while running to the muster point, waving the group on as he walked the rest of the route.
Eyewitness PO Stuart Lawson said he became ‘concerned’ when APO Fleming started ‘falling behind’ during a 700 metre run to the obstacle course: ‘Ian Fleming was a long way back.’
As a warm up for a ‘Dogwatch’ training activity commenced, horrified students witnessed Mr Fleming slow down and collapse only four laps into a ‘light jog’ across the 50-metre width of an all-weather pitch.
PO Lawson said he was ‘in shock’ as first raiders rushed to APO Fleming's aid: "[I] was conscious that Ian gradually slowed down and then aware that he had collapsed.
“I just heard someone shout ‘man down’.”
PO Claire Edwards said: ‘During the exercise Paddy was struggling and [I] was then aware that he had collapsed.’
Despite attempts to resuscitate Mr Fleming - a smoker who did not regularly exercise, according to several witnesses - he was declared dead at the scene on November 16, 2020 by South Central Ambulance Service paramedics.
Consultant pathologist Dr Adnan Al-Badri later found that Mr Fleming had a ‘significantly enlarged’ heart and was suffering from 'severe' ischemic heart disease when he died.
APO Fleming was scared about his ‘loss of status’ if he failed to complete the 'arduous physical training course', said area coroner Mrs Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp.
He could face possible loss of pay, accommodation, and rank if he did not complete the Senior Rates Leadership Course.
Mrs Rhodes-Kemp said APO Fleming had been so ‘frightened’ by the prospect of undergoing the programme that he had put it off five times.
Addressing the court in Portsmouth, Hants, during the second day of the inquest, she said: ‘It appears to have caused him tremendous anxiety.
‘He was having panic attacks. He was in tears.
‘He was worried particularly about his physical fitness, his age, and that he'd be shouted at.’
CPO Michael Rickwood, who had been overseeing Mr Fleming's preparation for the course, said APO Fleming had told him: ‘They're going to shout at me. I'm not being belittled by people who are junior to me.’
Warrant Officer Writer Claire Talbot, APO Fleming’s Divisional Officer, said many sailors felt anxiety about the leadership course: ‘There was a level of apprehension.
‘It is all kept cloak and dagger. People do have a genuine fear.’
PO Lawson also told the court he expected the course to be ‘quite strenuous’.
On the hearing's first day, APO Fleming's wife Michele said her husband had been given an 'ultimatum' to do the course or leave the navy.
Mrs Rhodes-Kemp, addressing CPO Rickwood, said: ‘We heard he was bullied and told you either do this course or you're out of the navy.’
CPO Rickwood said: ‘I'm taken aback by that. That did not happen.
"You don't get thrown out of the navy for not doing a course.’
Lieutenant Commander Andrew Bean added that he ‘would not have spoken’ to APO Fleming as such, and said: ‘We could not have terminated his employment [from the navy].’
During the first day of the hearing, Mr Fleming's wife Michele, whom he married in 2000, told the inquest her husband was ‘noticeably anxious’ about undergoing the training course, and had asked for it to be rescheduled several times.
She said: ‘As soon as Ian found out the date [of his training] he went into a complete meltdown.
‘This was out of character for Ian as he was always laid back.
‘Ian always gave 100 per cent to his job and wanted to do his best.’
Mr Fleming sent an email to his chain of command, saying he ‘wasn’t in the right place’ to do the course, and he would be setting himself ‘up to fail’.
Mrs Fleming, of Plymouth, told the hearing: ‘He told me he was given an ultimatum. He had to go on the course or he had to leave the navy.
‘He had no choice but to attend.
‘He was scared about letting himself down in front of juniors he trained. He didn’t like to disappoint.’
Mr Fleming was a member of the Unit Personnel Office team at RNAS Yeovilton Air Station.
A Service Inquiry was conducted into the incident, and the final report - including findings of the inquiry and its recommendations to improve defence safety - were published in March.
The inquest, expected to last four days, continues.