A YORKSHIRE college has been convicted of health and safety charges after a three year-old girl attending their nursery died on playground equipment.
Little Lydia Bishop was on her first day at York College nursery when she was found hanging from a rope attached to a slide on September 17, 2012.
York College was convicted of charge of failing to conduct an undertaking in such a way as to ensure persons not in their employment were not exposed to risks to health and safety.
But the maximum punishment for this charge is an unlimited fine - so Lydia’s parents Rebecca Dick and Bradley Bishop will not see anyone punished for the death of their daughter.
Nursery worker Sophee Redhead, 25, had been standing trial charged with manslaughter by gross negligence after she was accused of watching the tot walk towards the slide and leaving her unattended for 20 minutes - but today a jury at Leeds Crown Court took just three hours to find her not guilty of the offence.
The jury of six men and six women also found her not guilty of an alternative charge of failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of persons at work.
As the verdict against York College was read out first, Lydia’s mum, who sat in the public gallery throughout the three-week trial surrounded by family, sobbed.
Mum-of-one Redhead, standing in the dock as the foreman read the verdicts, burst into tears as she was declared not guilty of both counts, and was handed tissues by the dock officer.
Prosecutor Robert Smith QC asked Mr Justice Coulson if Redhead could be released from the dock, to which the High Court judge replied: “It would be an extremely pleasant thing for me to be able to do.”
Redhead, of York, was accused of leaving Lydia “to her own devices” for up to 20 minutes in the playground of the nursery but during her evidence she denied not looking after Lydia properly and insisted she was vigilant.
Mr Smith also accused York College of having “fundamental flaws” in its health and safety procedures, adopting a “tick-box” mentality.
He told the jury that at the privately-run nursery, despite a risk assessment identifying the ropes as a potential danger to children which should be removed when they were not being supervised, staff persistently left ropes attached to the slide.
“There developed over an extensive period of time... an attitude of neglect for the procedures that should have been followed,” Mr Smith said.
He said that while a risk assessment pointed out the risk of serious injury and even death if children played with the ropes without supervision, many staff members had admitted that ropes were “permanently” left out.
“This was part of the ‘tick-box’ mentality. Compliance was done on paper but not in practice,” he told the court.
In a statement released by York College after the sentence, Alison Birkinshaw, Principal and Chief Executive, said: “This has been an extremely difficult period for all involved and we remain devastated by the awful events of 17th September 2012.
“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 judgements made in this case and remain committed to learning from this tragedy.
“The college took the decision to close the nursery immediately after the tragedy, and it will not reopen.”
Detective Chief Inspector Nigel Costello, of North Yorkshire Police, said: “This was an extremely tragic case for all concerned, not least for Lydia’s family who have been left devastated by the loss of their daughter.
“It is only right that a full investigation into her death was conducted to provide her family with some answers and to establish if there was a criminal case to answer.
“The court has found that York College as an organisation were in breach of their own health and safety procedures, which ultimately resulted in Lydia’s sad and untimely death.
“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.
“As we have seen in this case, health and safety is more than just a tick-box exercise, it is something which must be properly and strictly put into practice by all members of staff otherwise you are faced with a tragedy which could ultimately have been avoided.”
Redhead and her emotional family hurried out of court without commenting.
York College will be sentenced on February 14.