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Leisure centre operator sentenced after child drowning

18 July 2013

The operator of an Essex leisure centre has been ordered to pay more than £190,000 in fines and costs after a seven year-old girl drowned in a swimming pool.

Michelle Gellard, from East London, died after she went swimming with a number of other children at the Blackwater Leisure Centre in Maldon on 14 June 2008 after attending a judo competition.

Bedfordshire-based Leisure Connection Ltd, which operates the pool, was prosecuted today (18 July) by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation into the death identified serious failings with lifeguard cover.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard there were two lifeguards on poolside duty on the day, increasing to three lifeguards when members of the public found Michelle at the bottom of the pool’s deep end.

One of the lifeguards retrieved Michelle from the water with the assistance of another swimmer. Sadly, despite resuscitation attempts, she was later pronounced dead at Colchester General Hospital.

The HSE investigation concluded that Leisure Connection Ltd failed over a period of time to ensure that sufficient, suitably positioned lifeguards were always on poolside duty to ensure the safety of pool users.

The court was told the company had failed to identify that this leisure centre was not compliant with its own procedures, and that the procedures in place at the site were inadequate.

Leisure Connection Ltd, of Potton House, Wyboston Lakes, Great North Road, Wyboston, Bedfordshire, was fined £90,000 with costs of £101,663 after admitting breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Antonina Drury said:

"This tragic and untimely death should never have happened.

"Members of the public visiting leisure centre swimming pools have an entitlement to expect that the operator paid to run them will deploy and train its staff so as to provide sufficient numbers of life guards in the right places so as to operate the pool safely.

"In this case, Michelle Gellard was robbed of her chances of rescue and survival by Leisure Connection’s failures.

"Evidence emerged in the course on the investigation that Leisure Connection failed to identify and address the fact that the amount of life guarding it was paying its staff to provide at Blackwater Leisure Centre was noticeably less than the amount it knew was required for full and safe operation of the pool."

For further information about safety in leisure activities, visit

Notes to editors

  1. Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement.
  2. Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, states: "It shall be the duty of every employer and every self-employed person, in the prescribed circumstances and in the prescribed manner, to give to persons (not being his employees) who may be affected by the way in which he conducts his undertaking the prescribed information about such aspects of the way in which he conducts his undertaking as might affect their health or safety."

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