A COLLEGE in Yorkshire is facing a fine running into tens of thousands of pounds after being found guilty of health and safety breaches which led to the death of a three-year-old girl on her first day at nursery.
In a dramatic twist at the end of a three-week trial, a jury reached a verdict yesterday that York College had failed to instigate adequate health and safety regulations before Lydia Bishop was found with a rope around her neck.
Nursery worker Sophee Redhead, 25, burst into tears as she was found not guilty of the manslaughter of Lydia, who died following the accident at an outdoor play area at the college’s nursery. Miss Redhead was also cleared of an alternative charge under health and safety legislation of failing to take “reasonable care” of the girl.
The jury found the college guilty of the health and safety breaches, and sentence will be passed on February 14. The fine which the college faces is unlimited, but it is expected to run into tens of thousands of pounds.
In a statement, the college’s principal and chief executive, Alison Birkinshaw, said it had been an “extremely difficult period for all involved” and stressed the nursery would not re-open after it closed immediately following the tragedy.
She added: “We deeply regret what happened and can’t begin to imagine the pain experienced by Lydia’s family and everyone affected by this terrible tragedy. They remain constantly in our thoughts. The governing body and all at York College respect fully the legal judgments made in this case and remain committed to learning from this tragedy.”
The jury of six men and six women returned verdicts after less than four hours of deliberations. The trial at Leeds Crown Court had heard Lydia was blue and not breathing when Miss Redhead discovered the child with the rope round her neck in the play area on September 17, 2012. Efforts to revive her by nursery staff, paramedics and doctors at York Hospital failed. The youngster was declared to be dead an hour after she was found.
Prosecutors claimed she had been “left entirely to her own devices” and 20 minutes passed before staff went to find out where she was. CCTV images showed Lydia walk alone towards the slide and climb the steps before she vanished from view.
About 20 minutes later, Miss Redhead, who had worked at the nursery for six years, was shown running towards the area and then, shortly after, rushing back with the child in her arms. Earlier in the day, Lydia and other children were caught on camera playing unsupervised on the slide.
Lydia died on her first full day at the nursery and her mother, Rebecca Dick, was assured children were not left alone outside to play. Despite a risk assessment identifying ropes to be a potential hazard, they were not put away every night, and had been left tied to the slide for weeks or months before she died.
Prosecutors accused the nursery of having a “tick box mentality” towards health and safety, which meant legislation was followed on paper but not in practice.
Miss Redhead, of Wenham Road, York, stressed she had been vigilant and was tending to another child who had fallen when a colleague realised Lydia was not in the sandpit where she was last seen.
Detective Chief Inspector Nigel Costello, of North Yorkshire Police, said Lydia’s death had been an “extremely tragic case for all concerned”, and added: “Unfortunately, it has taken the death of a three-year-old girl to expose the flaws in their health and safety practices and I hope this case serves as a warning to other organisations that it isn’t enough to just have a procedure written down.”