THE operators of a holiday park where a little girl drowned have been fined £20,000 with costs of £32,500 after they admitted safety breaches.
Plas Coch Holiday Homes Ltd, formerly known as Talacre Beach Caravan Sales Ltd, pleaded guilty to a health and safety charge and of failing to carry out a risk assessment over the operation of its pool.
It was stressed there was no cause or link between what the company conceded was not right and the tragic death.
Seven-year-old Seojin Kim, a Korean national, was on holiday with her family and had got into the pool with others at about 4pm on October 2, 2010.
The little girl from Birmingham was found at the bottom of the pool and was later declared dead in hospital.
Judge Niclas Parry, sitting at Mold Crown Court, said what happened in a matter of some 90 seconds was “every parent’s worst nightmare”.
From arriving at the pool and playing safely in the baby pool with two other children under the supervision of her father, Seojin was momentarily left unsupervised as her father went to the toilet.
“During those brief fateful minutes Seojin walked down the steps from the baby pool which gave access into the adjoining adult pool. As she proceeded into the deep water she very quickly got into difficulties.”
A member of the public saw that she was not moving at the bottom of the pool.
Despite the efforts of others she was pronounced dead in hospital.
“It need perhaps not be stated that no one wishes more than her father that the clock could be turned back,” the judge said.
“It is sad to have to record that on this occasion adequate adult supervision over her movements during those fateful few minutes was not provided,” he said.
But that did not exonerate the company from liability. While they could expect children to be properly supervised, they had to anticipate that on occasions small children did escape.
“That is what small children do,” Mr Parry said
“In short, swimming pools are dangerous places for young children. Those who take them to the pool and those who manage the pool must do everything they reasonably can to avoid the risk that a child may drown.”
The company held a high duty of care to Seojin. It was to her father’s eternal credit he did not seek to blame or punish anyone for his dreadful loss.
“He seeks only that lessons be learnt to hopefully prevent the occurrence of a similar tragedy,” he said.
Judge Parry stressed the prosecution could not prove a connection between the admitted breaches and the loss of life.
There were three main breaches – that there was a hazardous area of excessive floor gradient, there were weaknesses in regard to lifeguard provision and the prosecution said 18 incidents where circumstances similar to those resulting in the death had occurred over a three year period should have been analysed.
It said 60 per cent of all incidents occurred in the area of excessive gradient.
The defence said the pool was built in 1984 before any guidance was issued. It had been annually inspected by the local authority and no point was ever made about the gradient.
Lifeguards had been trained verbally and there were notices about the risk to unsupervised children. While documentation may have been defective the lifeguard on duty had been fully trained and had a direct view of the pool.
The number of previous incidents had to be seen in the light of the usage by 142,000 visitors and that any additional control measures would simply have involved more signs.
Mr Parry said that there could not be an environment that was entirely risk free and said “The law does aim to create that”. He said that there was within the company a proactive culture to health and safety issues with an unblemished health and safety record.
“An individual life is incapable of valuation,” he said.
“The life of seven year old Seojin was literally invaluable to those who loved her and miss her. We extend out heartfelt sympathy to her family. No penalty can nor is intended to reflect the value of that tragic loss of human life.
“Rather it is intended to be punitive to reflect the extent to which the defendant fell below the required standard.”
Chris Moss, prosecuting for Flintshire Council, said there was a small baby pool 0.5 metres deep and a larger pool which ranged from 1.2 metres to 1.8 metres deep.
There was a set of steps leading from one to the other, below which there was an excessive gradient which the prosecution said posed a significant danger.
Mr Moss said it was seven times steeper than the maximum recommended gradient.
Bernard Thorogood, defending, said the defendant was an excellent company which put emphasis on health and safety and had won a number of awards.
It’s directors wished to express their great sadness and sympathy for the girl’s family, he said.
A total of £50,000 had since been spent on redesigning the pool to make the floor completely flat.