THE death of former British army major general Mike Swindells was a ‘tragic accident’ according to the coroner at his inquest yesterday (Jan 27).

HM Assistant Coroner Peter Hatvany recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Mr Swindells, 85, was swimming in the sea off the coast of Elba, Italy in October whilst on holiday with his wife, Prudence, last year when the accident occurred.

Mr Hatvany said: “He had been swimming some way out to sea when he appears to have got into difficulties and downed.

“It’s not entirely clear to me how far out to sea he was. He was clearly out of his depth but I don’t know how far out.

“In terms of my conclusion this is clearly not suicide the only conclusion must be one of accidental death, this was a tragic accident.”

The inquest heard how Mrs Swindells was sat by the hotel pool when her husband went down to the beach for a swim. She went down to take a photo before returning to her sun lounger.

In a statement from Mrs Swindells read in court, she said: “I heard someone shouting help help. I saw it was Michael in the water waving and calling for help.

“I shouted to our friend, an Italian speaker, that Michael was drowning to get help. I ran along to the beach waving and shouting telling him to keep swimming. I was calling for help hoping a boat would come to his rescue.

“The next thing I remember is two people carrying him out of the water, two people tried to resuscitate him but couldn’t, finally a doctor turned up and announce he was deceased.”

Evidence from a pair of German holiday makers, who helped bring Mr Swindells body out of the water, was also heard.

Mr Hatvany said he had received no indication that Mr Swindells suffered from any kind of corollary disease or that there was any evidence of currents in the area.

No accurate cause of death was available from the Italian post-mortem, the inquest heard, and it was not possible to do a second post-mortem in the UK.

Mr Swindells was born in Cheshire and educated at Rugby School. He was called up for National Service in 1948 and commissioned into the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, then stationed in Germany, in 1949. On release he spent a short time in the textile industry but soon rejoined the regiment and saw service in Korea.

He was promoted to the rank of major general in 1980 and retired from active service in 1985. But from 1990 until 1995 was colonel of the 9th/12th Lancers.

He and his wife moved to Wiltshire when he started working for the Army Benevolent Fund, the Soldiers' Charity in 1987 and set up a bed and breakfast business in Wilcot.

They moved to Devizes about eight years ago and he became an active member of the congregation of St John's Church. The couple celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary last summer.