Royal Navy officer died completing grueling fitness test, inquest told

Decorated Royal Navy officer, 53, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan died after collapsing during ‘physically demanding’ fitness test he was told by his seniors to complete or ‘leave the Navy’, inquest hears

  • Decorated Navy soldier Ian Fleming died doing a mandatory training course
  • His wife told inquest he was given an ‘ultimatum’ to complete it or leave the Navy
  • Mr Fleming was ‘anxious’ about the course and did not feel he was ready
  • He suffered a heart attack in the early stages of the course and tragically died
  • Mr Fleming had completed tours of Iraq and Afghanistan during his service 

A decorated Royal Navy officer who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan died after collapsing during a fitness test he was told to complete or ‘leave the Navy’, an inquest heard today.

‘Exemplary’ officer Ian Fleming died from a cardiac episode he suffered while undergoing the physical training on duty.

His wife told the hearing the 53-year-old, who had heart disease, had been given an ‘ultimatum’ by his seniors, which left him with ‘no choice’ but to take part in a ‘physically demanding’ leadership course.

The serviceman, who had been awarded numerous medals for his work, was on track to attain the permanent rank of Petty Officer, having acted as a Petty Officer, but was fearful of the fitness test.

Area coroner Mrs Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp told the hearing: ‘In order to secure that promotion he had to undertake a particular training course. That made him anxious.

‘Exemplary’ officer Ian Fleming died from a cardiac episode he suffered while undergoing the physical training on duty

‘He suffered from anxiety for the last three or four years. He suffered panic attacks.’

Mr Fleming, known to his family and friends as ‘Paddy’, collapsed ‘in the early stages’ of a jogging exercise at HMS Collingwood, in Fareham, Hants.

Despite attempts to resuscitate him, Mr Fleming died on November 16, 2020.

The four-week Senior Rates Leadership Course, described as ‘mentally and physically demanding’, involved a log run, teambuilding exercises, Dogwatch Sports, and an obstacle course.

The court heard that failure to complete the course could result in an officer losing pay, accommodation, and rank, and could possibly affect their pension.

Mr Fleming’s wife Michele, who 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. He 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’.

He was awarded several medals during his career, including the Operational Service Medal for Afghanistan, the Accumulated Campaign Service Medal, the General Service Medal, the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal 

Mrs Fleming, of Plymouth, told the hearing in Portsmouth, Hants: ‘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.

After leaving school, he surprised his family by joining the Royal Navy rather than going to university as expected.

As well as being deployed to Iraq, Mr Fleming took part in two operational tours of Afghanistan – which Mrs Fleming believes had a ‘significant impact’ on her husband’s mental health.

He was awarded several medals during his career, including the Operational Service Medal for Afghanistan, the Accumulated Campaign Service Medal, the General Service Medal, the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal.

Dr Philip McMillan, a civilian GP at the military base at Yeovilton, worked with Mr Fleming to complete the form saying he was fit to undertake the training.

He told the court although Mr Fleming was ‘permanently medically downgraded’ due to his mental health: ‘There were no restrictions on his physical fitness.

‘He reported that his anxiety was well controlled.’

However, consultant pathologist Dr Adnan Al-Badri found that Mr Fleming, a smoker, had a ‘significantly enlarged’ heart and was suffering from ‘severe’ ischemic heart disease when he died. 

‘The process of exercise put on the heart precipitated an ischemic attack,’ he said.

‘Sudden exercise if he had not exercised for a while, given the condition of his heart, could be a risky thing to do.’ 

Chris and Audrey Wales, Mr Fleming’s mother and stepfather, also spoke at the inquest.

Mrs Wales described her ‘wonderful and caring’ son as a ‘true gentleman’ who brought a ‘wealth of service and life experience’ to his role in the Navy. 

‘He gave 110 per cent and made the ultimate sacrifice. I just want a guarantee that no other mother or family will be in our situation,’ she said.

The inquest, which is expected to last until Thursday, continues.

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