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Northampton Council negligent over pool accident

High Court rules that lifeguards failed in their duty of care to a six-year-old boy left with significant brain damage after near drowning

17 June 2015

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A judge in a multi-million pound compensation claim has ruled Northampton Borough Council is liable for damages after a boy 'nearly drowned' at a town swimming pool.

The boy, aged six at time of the incident in February 2002, sustained catastrophic brain injuries after he slipped unnoticed under the water at Danes Camp Pool in Northampton.

Judge Sir Colin Mackay, sitting in the High Court, backed a negligence claim against the pool's managers, Northampton Borough Council, saying two lifeguards had 'failed in their duty of care'.

The judge found that the guards had 'failed to identify him as a child at risk' even before the non-swimmer got into the water. In addition they had neglected to 'continue to scan the water and pool bottom to satisfy themselves that he was not in difficulties'.

The court saw CCTV of the boy lowering himself into shallow water at the pool. Minutes later another swimmer noticed his 'lifeless' body lying on the bottom of the pool and dragged him out.

Poolside first aid and paramedics managed to save the boy's life, but he was left with significant brain damage due to oxygen deprivation. Experts agreed the boy had been underwater for more than two minutes and 40 seconds.

The judge ruled that the claimant had been 'unobserved' by the lifeguards. However, Susan Rodway QC of 39 Essex Chambers, who acted on behalf of the council, argued that the boy was also 'out of sight' of his father, who was in the pool at the time.

She also argued during the course of the four-day trial that the lifeguards employed by the council could have become distracted by 'unruly boys diving into the deep end' as well as other pool users.

Sir Colin, however, dismissed the council's arguments, ruling that he had seen nothing on the CCTV to support the defendant's case that it was difficult to track the claimant from the lifeguard's raised vantage points once he was in the water.

Commenting on the case, Bill Braithwaite QC of Exchange Chambers, who acted for the claimant, said: 'Throughout the time the case has been going on, Northampton Borough Council has denied responsibility - even when given clear opportunities to admit their failing, at a significantly reduced cost to the council tax payer.

'They disputed that it was a breach of duty to fail to see that the boy had slipped unnoticed under the water for that amount of time. They then argued that, once the boy had inhaled water into his lungs, he was doomed to suffer brain damage until he was intubated - which requires anaesthesia - and ventilated. That defence was also rejected.'

He added: 'As always, the evidence and the selection of experts was vital in establishing that the council failed in their duty of care.'

The amount of the boy's payout will be assessed at a later date, although Toller's Solicitors, acting on behalf of the claimant and his family, said that damages could well run into 'several millions'.

However, a Northampton Borough Council spokesman has confirmed that it is to appeal against the court's decision.

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Health & Safety