Bannatyne Maida Vale pool cleaner died from heart attack, inquest determines – but club’s health and safety was ‘inadequate’

Kamal Al-Hirsi

Kamal Al-Hirsi - Credit: The Al-Hirsi family

A “bubbly and much loved” cleaner at Bannatyne’s Maida Vale health club died from a heart attack linked to alcohol and cocaine use, a jury has determined.

Ending the four-day inquest at St Pancras Coroner’s Court, they ruled Kamal Al-Hirsi, who was on shift in the pool at the gym on Greville Road, Kilburn, died of heart arrhythmia on October 10 last year.

They recorded a narrative determination.

However, in their verdict, they said the Bannatyne gym’s “pool safety measures and emergency response procedures were inadequate, rendering resuscitation attempts futile”.

During the four-day hearing, the jury heard the pool didn’t have a qualified lifeguard on duty, the centre’s panic button wasn’t pressed, there were difficulties reaching the duty manager on the day, and the CCTV in reception wasn’t monitored regularly and had a blind spot where Mr Al-Hirsi had sunk to the bottom of the pool.

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Dennis Freeman-Wright, head of facilities for Swim England, said it wasn’t unusual for pools the size of the one at the health club to not have a lifeguard. He told a jury the pool rarely had more than six people despite a capacity of 40; that children didn’t swim in there unaccompanied; and that it was only 1.5m deep.

The foreman of the jury said: “Kamal was cleaning the pool and then proceeded to swim two lengths.

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“Towards the end of the second length he suffered cardiac arrhythmia.

“Contributing factors were alcohol and cocaine, and a fatty liver.”

Earlier in the week, the pathologist who conducted the post-mortem into his death said that Kamal was twice over the drink-drive limit, and had cocaine in his system.

His family confirmed to Dr Alan Bates that they knew he would occasionally drink, but did not know he took cocaine. However several witnesses who gave evidence said they didn’t notice anything different about Kamal that morning.

Dr Bates said this wasn’t unusual, as it was likely he had “built up a tolerance”, he told the court. He said it would be wrong to ignore the cocaine, which affects the heart.

Kamal, who was 56, had started his shift at 5.30am. He had cleaned the bottom of the pool. CCTV shown to the jury showed him then swimming two lengths just after 10am, before he sank to the bottom of the pool at the end of his final length.

Footage also showed gym members and staff frantically trying to revive Kamal after he was hauled out of the pool.

But Dr Michael Scallan, a retired anaesthetist who was in the club at the time, checked Kamal’s pupils during the resuscitation efforts before paramedics arrived. He found them “fixed and dilated”, which shows serious brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen for three to five minutes.

This was confirmed by the pathologist, who said Mr Al-Hirsi would have survived if he had been noticed as soon as he submerged, and had been revived.

Gazmend Turjaka, a member at the club, spoke on Monday of his regret at not intervening earlier, as he initially thought Kamal was “fooling around”.

“This will live with me forever. If I could go back and do things differently, I would,” he said.

Senior coroner Mary Hassell, who has presided over the inquest, will issue a prevention of future deaths notice in the next few days.

Fadhl Al-Hirsi, Kamal’s brother, said: “He was very popular, and he would do anything for anyone.

“We didn’t know about the drugs, and we were so shocked when we heard that in court.

“He was bubbly. All his nieces and nephews loved him so much. It’s so sad – he was so young.”

A spokesperson for the Bannatyne Group expressed their thoughts and sympathies with Kamal’s friends and family.

They went on to say: “The inquest jury considered all the facts surrounding his sad death and concluded it was due to cardiac arrhythmia with alcohol and cocaine consumption possibly a factor.

“While not all the evidence heard during the inquest was relevant to Kamal’s death, we will thoroughly review the narrative verdict alongside the comments made by the coroner about our policies and procedures.”

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