A STRONG swimmer holidaying in the western region of France with friends died as a result of accidental drowning, a coroner has ruled.

Stewart Thomson died on June 25, of last year, whilst taking a dip in the Lac d’Apremont lake in the Pays de la Loire region of France.

The 71-year-old from Newton Aycliffe was holidaying with his wife and four friends last summer when they decided to head down to the lake.

Following a picnic lunch Mr Thomson decided he would swim across the lake and asked his fellow holidaymakers if they wanted to join him.

He had seen swimmers from the area doing the same earlier in the day and was eager to take a look.

Other members from the group decided against the swim due to the cold temperatures.

Prior to his death, Mr Thomson was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy – a condition his family said he had never shown symptoms of before.

Muscular dystrophy refers to a group of disorders that involve a progressive loss of muscle mass and consequent loss of strength.

The court heard that symptoms of muscular dystrophy include cramps and cardiac conduction problems.

The retired bus company worker started swimming over to the water inflatables but stopped before reaching them at a cordon of buoys where he was seen treading water.

His friends and wife thought Mr Thomson was reading a sign in the area.

They noticed he was swimming back to the group at a much slower pace.

A concerned friend – who knew of Mr Thomson's strong swimming abilities – walked along the lake edge before he saw Mr Thomson disappear under the water.

He shouted back to the group that Mr Thomson had 'gone under' and went into the water to try and save his friend.

The authorities were then called and a team of divers spent 35 minutes searching for the body.

A post-mortem examination was carried out at Darlington Memorial Hospital after the body was flown back to the UK which revealed injuries consistent with drowning.

Senior coroner for County Durham and Darlington, Jeremy Chipperfield, said: "Mr Thomson lost the ability to swim and my findings show he was suffering symptoms of muscular dystrophy and drown as a result of this."

The court heard that an English couple living in the area have reported several incidents in the lake over the years after people went swimming in the area.