Backpacker died on her first scuba dive

A series of failings caused a British backpacker to drown on the Great Barrier Reef during her first dive, a coroner ruled yesterday.

Bethany Farrell, 23, of Colchester, Essex, died while scuba diving off the Whitsunday Islands in Queensland, Australia.

Miss Farrell, an English graduate, was taking an introductory dive with a friend when she panicked and became separated from her instructor, Chelmsford coroner’s court was told.

After the inquest her father, Patrick, 48, called for the company — named in court as DL20 Trading — to be prosecuted. He said: “Ultimately, Bethany went on a paid-for, organised trip and was completely let down. Legal proceedings are going ahead.”

Caroline Beasley-Murray, the senior coroner for Essex, recorded a narrative verdict. She said that Miss Farrell drowned off Hayman Island, the most northerly of the Whitsunday Islands.

“There were various failings in the way in which the diving activities were carried out,” she said.

The court was told that Queensland’s health and safety investigators found the tour company’s failings included not allowing people to practise with their buoyancy devices or testing the competency of the first-time divers.

Miss Farrell arrived in Queensland on February 11 last year. On February 17 she went diving with her friend, another novice, and their instructor Fiona McTavish, the court was told. Constable Syrrell Howard, an Australian police officer, said in a statement read to the court that Miss Farrell became separated from her group, possibly after they became mixed up with another team.

“It is suspected the deceased became panicked and, as a result, became detached from her dive group,” he wrote. She was seen surfacing before she “descended ultimately to her death”.

Queensland’s office of industrial relations, its equivalent of the Health and Safety Executive, said the diving company risked the health and safety of Miss Farrell and the two other divers. Its report said the trio’s swimming competency should have been tested and they should have been allowed to practise their buoyancy before diving.

A post-mortem inquiry recorded that the cause of death was drowning.

After the hearing, Miss Farrell’s mother, Caron, 51, said she was a “real-life angel”. She added: “She was lovely, she was just beautiful.”

The company DL20 Trading also goes by the name of Wings Diving Adventures, an Australian companies file discloses.