Boy drowned in 'blind spot' just feet from lifeguard in swimming pool

A SEVEN-year-old boy who could not swim drowned in a wave pool at one of Scotland's top leisure centres as a result of serious management failures, a court heard yesterday.

Luke Hutton died in the pool at Dundee's Olympia leisure centre because inadequately trained lifeguards failed to notice him slip under the water as he played in a "blind spot" only a few feet away from one of the pool's lifeguard stations.

He had been playing in the water on 29 September, 2007, with two young children he had met on a bus, while his mother, Gail Hutton, sat with another parent in the caf at the pool complex.

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Luke's body was discovered in the deep end of a covered wave pool only after another child reported him missing to the pool authorities. Luke vanished from sight seconds after his mother was asked to leave the caf because it was closing.

At Dundee Sheriff Court, Dundee Leisure Trust, the company which runs the leisure centre, was fined 40,000 after pleading guilty to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The company admitted failing to ensure lifeguards were adequately trained to ensure that every part of the wave pool was properly supervised, particularly in relation to a potential blind spot.

As a consequence, Luke had become separated from a float and had slipped undetected beneath the water and died.

Fiscal Pamela Brady told the court that Luke had drowned in the only part of the pool that could not be easily monitored by lifeguards. There was a lifeguard just a few feet away, but the boy could not be seen from the lifeguard's station.

Ms Brady said: "Health and safety failings by Dundee Leisure were tragically brought to light, with the result that Luke Hutton lost his life in the pool, notwithstanding that the leisure centre was fully staffed and his mother, Gail, had been able to see him only a matter of seconds before he disappeared under the surface of the water.

"There are no words to describe the horror of losing a young child under these circumstances and Mrs Hutton is utterly devastated by the loss of her son."

Ms Brady explained that Luke had been playing in the pool with two children, aged eight and nine, whom he had met for the first time while travelling to the centre by bus. His mother and the mother of the two children were in the centre caf.

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She added that the nine-year-old girl, who could swim, had been looking after Luke and her eight-year-old brother, who were both non-swimmers.

The girl had been left "terribly traumatised" by Luke's death and blamed herself for what had happened.

Fining the charitable trust, sheriff Richard Davidson said: "These are major failures for which management are culpable and they must be held responsible."

Following the hearing, Luke's mother said she had attracted "nasty comments" about her fitness as a parent following the death of her son – a boy who was "full of fun and laughter".

She said: "I sincerely hope that those persons will now become aware of the full facts surrounding Luke's death and are thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

"Their attitude has caused me tremendous anxiety during a time when I was grief-stricken. Their behaviour has resulted in me seeking a new life in another town."

Mrs Hutton added: "I am grateful that Dundee Leisure have now accepted their responsibility for failures in management and the operation of the Olympia swimming pool which were factors which led to the death of Luke."

A spokesman for Dundee Leisure Trust said: "We deeply and sincerely regret the tragic loss of a young life. The impact of Luke's death on everyone involved with Dundee Leisure Trust remains as strong now as it was two years ago.

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"Sadly, we cannot turn the clock back, but since the tragedy we have closely examined all our policies, procedures and the physical layout of the pool to try to prevent such a terrible accident happening again."

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