David Lloyd Leisure Club fined £2.5m after three-year-old drowns

Ridwaan Omar
Ridwaan Omar

Published: August 10th, 2023

6 min

David Lloyd Leisure Club Limited has pleaded guilty to a health and safety offence after a three-year-old boy accidentally drowned in a pool at the firm's leisure club in Moortown, Leeds in April 2018 . The company was fined £2.55m and ordered to pay £258,000 in costs at Leeds Crown Court.

Leeds City Council, which brought the prosecution, investigated the incident and found that the three-year-old was visiting the David Lloyd Leisure Club with his father and sister when the tragedy occurred.

Inquest findings

An inquest was held with a jury in 2020 and returned a verdict of accidental death. There was no CCTV footage or witnesses to establish how the child had ended up in the pool, but he was spotted by his father who sought to pull his son from the water after noticing he had left his side. The jury found that the child had probably been under the 1.2m deep water for more than two minutes.

The inquest heard that a single 17-year-old lifeguard was on duty and was expected to supervise up to 50 people. The prosecution contended that there had been inadequate lifeguarding arrangements at the club over a number of years.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance hsg179 Health and safety in swimming pools - HSG179 (hse.gov.uk) recommends that 'constant poolside supervision by lifeguards provides the best assurance of pool user's safety. Where the site specific risk assessment has shown that constant poolside supervision is not reasonably practicable, robust, alternative measures must be implemented to ensure the safety of pool users.'

In a pool measuring 25m x 12.5m, the HSE guidance provides fortwo lifeguards, which may be required following a Lifeguard Zone Visibility Test.

On the 1st August 2023, David Lloyd Leisure Club Limited pleaded guilty to an offence under s3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 relating to the company exposing club members to risks between September 2015 and April 2022.

Judge Simon Phillips KC said the company 'fell far short of the appropriate standard' and 'ignored concerns raised by employees allowing breaches to exist over a long period of time' as well as 'failing to put in place measures that are recognised standards in the industry'. The concerns related to only having one lifeguard on duty, a concern which had been raised by employees themselves. David Lloyd Leisure Club Limited had failed to take practical steps to eliminate or reduce the risk of drowning.

The company admitted to having inadequate and unsuitable risk assessments and failing to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the safety of those visiting the club. The company had previously been subject to a fine of £330,000 for a near miss incident in 2016 when a child was discovered in the water at another club https://www.ioshmagazine.com/david-lloyd-fined-ps330k-after-boy-almost-drowned-club-pool .

In imposing the substantial fine, the judge remarked that it must reflect the seriousness of the offence which he categorised as falling within the high culpability category of the Sentencing Council guidelines. He imposed £2.9m fine, which was reduced to £2.55m for the guilty plea.

Ridwaan Omar is a Partner/Solicitor-Advocate at Forbes Solicitors and a Technical Member of IOSH and commented on the prosecution:

This tragic case provides a stark reminder about the obvious dangers of water and drowning. While swimming is a life skill, it is essential that when organisations are providing leisure pool facilities they must also make sure that adequate supervision of visitors is provided by ensuring the numbers of lifeguards are appropriate and that adequate and suitable pool specific risk assessments are undertaken. The court will take into account previous incidents of a similar nature when assessing culpability and aggravating factors when imposing sentence. The sentence came out on a day when another tragic case of a five-year-old child had reportedly drowned in a swimming pool at a resort in Cornwall which underlines why it is so important for organisations to comply with industry standards to minimise the risk of tragic incidents occurring.

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