A judge in a multi-million pound compensation case has ruled Northampton Borough Council is liable for damages after a boy ‘nearly drowned’ unnoticed at a town swimming pool.
The boy, who was six at the time of the incident at Danes Camp Leisure Centre in 2002, is now 18 and was left with severe brain damage after being under the water for around two minutes and 40 seconds.
The family lodged a major compensation bid, which finally came before London’s High Court on May 18 this year, claiming that two lifeguards’ failure to see the youngster going under amounted to negligence.
The borough council has always denied culpability, but High Court judge Sir Colin Mackay has ruled that the lifeguards, then council employees, should have seen the boy slip underwater, as lifeguards are require to scan their particular area of a pool every 10 seconds.
In his ruling the judge wrote: “There is no doubt that given where the two lifeguards can be seen to have been on the afternoon of this event, the claimant was no more than seven or eight metres at most from both of them and must have been in the zone of the lifeguard in the high chair, as well as within that of the lifeguard in the central high raised position.
“Two pairs of eyes must have scanned his progress to the very point at which he entered the water and the area of the pool towards which he was aiming, over a three minute period every 10 seconds.”
Susan Rodway QC, acting on behalf of the council claimed throughout the course of the four day trial that the lifeguards could have become distracted by “unruly boys diving into the deep end” and “other pool users”.
She also argued that the lifeguards’ underwater view could have been obscured by “a glare of lights on the surface,” and argued that the boy was “out of sight” of his father, who was also in the pool at the time.
But the judge dismissed the arguments, ruling: “I see nothing on the CCTV to support the notion that it would have been difficult to keep an eye on the progress of the claimant once he entered the water from one or both of the raised vantage points.”
It will now be down to the legal teams to hammer out exactly how much compensation will have to be paid by the council to the family of the teenager.
Partner at Toller’s Solicitors, acting on behalf of the family, Tristan Holdom, said the amount is likely to be “several millions” and described it as a “landmark case”.
Mr Holdom said: “This case has been going on for 12 years.
“This poor boy has gone from the age of six to eighteen and all during that time there has been no support in terms of compensation. They have been left to fend for themselves as the council has denied liability throughout.
He added: “Our job now is to try and ensure that he can embark on as rewarding an adult life as he can and allow the other members of the family to retrieve some of their lives back they have had to give up over the last decade.”
A Northampton Borough Council spokesman said: “An appeal will be made against the court’s decision and it would be inappropriate to comment further until the outcome of that process.”