Swimming lessons were dropped from the time-table at St Peter’s School in Huntingdon just weeks after a 14-year-old pupil drowned in the river at Hartford, an inquest heard today.

Assistant coroner Belinda Cheney was so concerned to hear that budgetary cuts forced the Huntingdon secondary school to cancel the £10,000 a year lessons last September that she will now write to the Minister for Education to ask that they be included in the National Curriculum for all secondary school pupils.

"There should be sufficient provision for swimming lessons so that all children are given the opportunity to swim and parents must ensure this is maintained," she said.

The inquest heard that Rony John, of Tomlinson Court in Huntingdon, a non-swimmer, jumped into the water at Riverside Green at 3.30pm on July 24 last year, but quickly found himself in difficulty.

In a statement read out at the inquest, a teenager who was there that day, said: "I saw him flapping his arms about and panicking and then he started grabbing on to other people and pulling them under. He was struggling and then his head went under the water."

Another told police: "I heard people shouting and screaming 'Get him out' and I thought they were messing around, but then it went silent and people were looking for bubbles to find him."

Another teenager, who was also swimming that day, said in her statement: "I saw him splashing around and realised he was in trouble. I tried to hold him up, but he kept bobbing up and down. We tried to grab him and dive down to find him but it was too dark and I could feel the current pulling me."

The inquest heard that several of Rony's friends who witnessed the incident were too traumatised to give statements to the police and none attended the inquest in person to give evidence as they were too distressed.

Fire crews searched the water for Rony for several hours and at 2am the following day a team from Spartan Rescue discovered his body on the riverbed.

The coroner offered her condolences to Rony's parents, who attended the inquest, and said: "I can't think of anything more painful and upsetting and difficult than losing a child," before recording a verdict that Rony's death was an accident.

Rony's parents, John Thomas and Lizzy John, spoke through an interpreter after the inquest and said they felt the verdict was fair. They said they were happy there were now signs at the riverside warning people about the dangers of swimming in the river.