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Talented violinist, 57, died in shallow end of university swimming pool after ‘flawed’ camera system failed to spot him


A talented violinist drowned after a ‘flawed’ underwater camera system at a swimming pool failed to show he was submerged for almost seven minutes.

Dominic Hopkins, 57, the former leader of Norwich Philharmonic Orchestra(CORR), got into difficulty in the shallow end of the baths after suffering an epileptic fit.

But he wasn’t spotted by the three lifeguards on duty, despite two having feeds from nine underwater cameras.

A Health and Safety Executive inspector told an inquest that the procedure staff had been taught to monitor the screens and then the pool meant they had barely half a second to glance at each picture.

The problem was exacerbated by the position where Mr Hopkins slipped under the water, which meant he would have been too small to spot easily on the monitor.

HSE inspector Garry Moon told the hearing: ‘He would have appeared less than one inch in length [on-screen].

Accomplished violinist Dominic Hopkins (pictured) died after getting into difficulty while swimming at a university pool

Accomplished violinist Dominic Hopkins (pictured) died after getting into difficulty while swimming at a university pool

University of East Anglia's (UEA) Sportspark pictured (Google maps)

University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Sportspark pictured (Google maps)

‘If he had been in a different lane, this would have been a different situation.’

Coroner Yvonne Blake recorded a narrative conclusion after hearing pools across the country, including the University of East Anglia’s Sportspark facility in Norwich where Mr Hopkins had been exercising, had since adopted a different system to scan the water.

She said: ‘Mr Hopkins died as a result of multiple organ failure, secondary to drowning precipitated by an epileptic fit.’

Experienced swimmer Mr Hopkins went to the pool almost every day to help with his Marfan syndrome, a disorder of the body’s connective tissues for which he had undergone more than 20 operations.

An epileptic, he wore a bright pink or blue swim cap which helped him stand out from the water.

But on January 27, 2022, he fell unconscious after suffering a fit while using breaststroke to swim lengths.

He wasn’t spotted for six minutes and 30 seconds, despite being in just 1.2m (around 4ft) of water, Norfolk Coroner’s Court heard. A female swimmer eventually realised something was wrong and dragged him out.

Mr Hopkins was given CPR and rushed to Norfolk and Norwich Hospital by air ambulance where he died the following day.

Giving evidence to the inquest, Mr Moon said Mr Hopkins’ case was unusual because he had not been spotted ‘for a very long time’.

At the time, lifeguards were trained in an industry-wide procedure known as 10:20, which meant they would scan the pool for five seconds and then the 3.7in by 2.9in monitors with the underwater camera feeds for five seconds. If they spotted an incident, they then had 20 seconds to respond.

This gave them just 0.625 seconds – around twice the time it takes a human to blink – to look at each screen before checking the pool again.

Mr Hopkins was the leader of Norwich Philharmonic between 2008 and 2016. In a tribute the orchestra said: 'He was an exceptionally fine violinist and a passionate musician, much-loved by all of us'

Mr Hopkins was the leader of Norwich Philharmonic between 2008 and 2016. In a tribute the orchestra said: ‘He was an exceptionally fine violinist and a passionate musician, much-loved by all of us’

Mr Hopkins was also swimming in the least visible section of the pool, where he would have appeared no bigger than four-fifths of an inch long on the monitors, Mr Moon said.

A ‘blue hue’ from the water would have further affected visibility.

‘At the time, 10:20 was a well-used protocol but it was flawed,’ Mr Moon added.

Research had never been carried out into the method and, following research by the Royal Life Saving Society UK, it had been replaced by the ‘natural scan method’, the inquest was told.

Sportspark had also upgraded its technology to Poolview Iris, an artificial intelligence system which detects when someone is struggling in the water.

The danger Mr Hopkins was in would have been less obvious to observers because he was considered to be ‘low risk’ as he was swimming in the slow lane in the shallow end and appeared to be in a ‘natural position’ and didn’t make any abrupt changes or noises.

‘Generally, people at the bottom of the shallow end is not uncommon,’ Mr Moon said.

‘Even a lifeguard paying attention still could have missed him. He was difficult to see – detection was hard.’

Glare probably also played a part. A previous risk assessment had found there was ‘significant glare’ in the section where Mr Hopkins was swimming caused by the lights and windows.

There were protocols to allow staff to ask for permission to walk the poolside if visibility was impaired but the glare was not considered severe enough for this to take place at the time Mr Hopkins went under the water.

Lucy Holden, a friend of Mr Hopkins who attended the inquest, said: ‘It just seems quite difficult to know that he was right in front of them and [would] not have been visible.

Mr Hopkins was a familiar face on Norwich's busking scene during the 1980s when he performed with a classical music group on London Street

Mr Hopkins was a familiar face on Norwich’s busking scene during the 1980s when he performed with a classical music group on London Street

‘So, I suppose the glare was there but they were unaware of it.’

Mr Hopkins, the youngest of three brothers, led Norwich Philharmonic Orchestra from 2008 to 2016.

In a tribute after his death, colleagues said: ‘He was an exceptionally fine violinist and a passionate musician, much-loved by all of us.’

He was born and raised in Norwich and studied maths at UEA, gaining a first class degree. He later took a master’s in mathematic physics at King’s College London.

During the 1980s he was a familiar face in the city’s busking scene, performing with a classical music group.

He also spent time doing offshore surveying work on the beds of the North and Black Sea for the oil industry and in an aircraft surveying for diamonds in Botswana.

UEA said after the inquest concluded yesterday(TUES): ‘UEA Sportspark is deeply saddened by the passing of Dominic Hopkins. We would like to take this opportunity to pass our sincerest condolences to his family and friends.

‘The safety of our pool users has, and always will be, our priority.

‘Following this incident, a full investigation took place. Where required, steps were taken to strengthen and update existing procedures and new technology was introduced.

‘The HSE investigated this incident and found that the UEA complies with good practice and adhered to the then current guidance.’



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