Pond swimmer 'had heart condition'

Herald Series: Swedish photographer Sussie Ahlburg died at a bathing pond on Hampstead Heath (Met Police/PA) Swedish photographer Sussie Ahlburg died at a bathing pond on Hampstead Heath (Met Police/PA)

A woman who drowned in the ladies' bathing ponds in London's Hampstead Heath suffered from an irregular heart beat, a coroner's court heard today.

Sussie Ahlburg, a 50-year-old photographer who lived with her husband and children in London, had not been taking beta blockers that had been recommended for her condition, a doctor told St Pancras Coroner's Court.

Despite there being two lifeguards on duty and "less than ten" swimmers in the pond on August 4 this year, no-one noticed Ms Ahlburg disappear under the water after suffering an episode of cardiac arrhythmia, according to a lifeguard.

Ms Ahlburg was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and took up photography as a child, studying it at the Central School of Art when she moved to London.

On August 4 2013, she left her home in Holborn and cycled to the ladies' ponds on her folding black Brompton bicycle.

Her body was found in the bathing pond by officers from Scotland Yard's marine policing unit the following day.

Senior Coroner Mary Hassell, who concluded that the death was accidental, said: "I have heard that the water is very opaque. Once Ms Ahlburg had slipped under the water she would have very quickly become invisible."

Dr Jonathan Hazan, a general practitioner at Holborn Medical Practice, said that Ms Ahlburg had been diagnosed with an irregular heart rate in 1998.

But Dr Hazan said that notes from check-ups in 2009, 2011 and 2012 revealed that Ms Ahlburg had not been taking the medication she had been advised to for her condition.

Despite her heart palpitations becoming increasingly frequent in the months before she died, Ms Ahlburg still refused to take beta blockers, Dr Hazan said.

He added that Ms Ahlburg had been advised last year not to swim alone in open water.

Dr Liina Kiho, who conducted a post mortem examination, said that Ms Ahlburg's heart "showed significant abnormality" when examined under a microscope.

Claire Roach, a lifeguard on duty at the ladies' pond during the morning of August 4, said there were "less than ten, probably about five or six" swimmers that morning, but that she had not seen Ms Ahlburg get in the pond.

Paul Jeal, senior supervisor of swimming facilities on Hampstead Heath, said an internal investigation following Ms Ahlburg's death had concluded that his team was fulfilling its duties and "everything was in place as it should have been".

Mrs Hassell said: "I can imagine that it may have taken a moment for a swimmer with an irregular heart beat to have slipped under the water without giving any sound to indicate distress.

"So unless a lifeguard was looking at her at that precise moment, they wouldn't have seen her."

Ms Ahlburg specialised in photographs of applied art and portraiture. She had written a book called Photograph Your Own Art & Craft, which was published in 2011. Her art photographs had been used by the Guardian, Random House and The Times magazine.

Ms Ahlburg's portraits were commissioned by musicians and record companies, and featured in The Wall Street Journal and BBC Music Magazine. She was also commissioned to document the building of the Tate Modern in photographs.

Ms Ahlburg was married to Andrew Donald Keate, who is also a photographer. Her family were not present at the court today.

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