A coroner has recorded an open verdict on a former Skipton Girls' High School pupil who drowned while diving off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Jessica Richards left school in the summer of 1995 with five A levels and was working as a volunteer with the Australian Institute of Marine Science before taking up a place at Liverpool University to study veterinary surgery.

Jessica died on October 8, 1996, when she ran out of air while on a 30-metre dive. It was almost a year after her death before an Australian coroner held an inquest.

Jessica's body was brought home last year and buried in the family plot near Clitheroe.

A UK inquest in Blackburn has returned an open verdict after the coroner scrutinised Australian inquest papers and evidence from AIMS. Her death was caused by a cerebral air-gas embolism due to rapid ascent when she was out of air.

Jessica's mother, Irys Richards, who lives at West Burton, said: "The Blackburn coroner said that if the hearing had been in the UK there could have been a recording of unlawful killing and a prosecution.

But because of the Australian open verdict and the coroner's opinion there wasn't sufficient evidence to support a charge of criminal negligence, we can do nothing.

"Whatever we did, it would not bring back Jessica. Our only consolation is that AIMS has been forced to tighten up its procedures since she died.''

A coroner's report from Townsville, Australia, describes Jessica's last moments as she screamed for help.

"On the surface Mr Wilson (another volunteer) saw a diver surface about 30 metres away, screaming and waving her arms. She did not appear to be wearing her mask.''

After a number of unsuccessful attempts to reach her, Jessica was found several minutes later lying face down on the seabed. Her air regulator was not in her mouth.

AIMS was criticised in eight areas, including allowing inadequate and inappropriate supervision of novice divers - Jessica had only 15 hours' experience - allowing an inappropriately-trained diver to lead the team and having inadequate equipment.

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