Charges over pool failings ruled out

A HEALTH and safety watchdog has dropped its charge against a Yorkshire council despite uncovering failings at a swimming pool where a child almost died.

Lawyers for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said it was "not in the public interest" to prosecute North Yorkshire Council for a second time over problems at the Bewerley Park outdoor education centre.

The council, which owns and operates the centre near Pateley Bridge, was cleared earlier this year of breaching health and safety laws following an investigation into the death of 14-year-old schoolboy Joe Lister during a caving trip in 2005.

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But it faced a separate charge after the HSE investigated a May 2008 incident at the centre in which another school trip almost ended in tragedy.

A primary school pupil, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had to be resuscitated after being found floating face down in a swimming pool. The child later made a full recovery.

The council was charged with an alleged breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, but yesterday HSE prosecutor Michael Elliker formally offered no evidence in the case during a short hearing at Leeds Crown Court.

He said that the HSE had reviewed its position since the Joe Lister trial and studied the progress made by the council.

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"An investigation was carried out by the HSE which established there were failings in the health and safety management at the centre," Mr Elliker said.

"Training was found to be deficient and risk assessments were alleged not to be suitable.

"In light of the review, what has been established is that changes have been implemented, an improvement notice has been complied with, and there is ongoing dialogue with the HSE as to future conduct in health and safety issues.

"It has been decided that it is not in the public interest to carry on against this authority in light of the history."

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A jury at Leeds Crown Court in May took nine hours to acquit the council of two charges relating to Joe's death. He was one of 10 pupils and three adults on a caving trip organised by the centre.

The group got into difficulties when water in a cave began rising rapidly, and Joe drowned as he tried to swim to safety.

After yesterday's hearing, HSE head of operations Pam Waldron said: "HSE has met senior officers at North Yorkshire County Council, who have provided assurances of their willingness to discuss and address underlying causes relating to management of health and safety at the centre."

A council spokeswoman said: "The outcome of the trial in May confirmed that the procedures and practices followed in our outdoor education centres reflect all current legislation.

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"The evidence presented also demonstrated that the standards to which we work are those found in respected centres up and down the country.

"Our centres are also licensed by the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority, which is linked to the HSE.

"We welcome the decision of the HSE and regard it as appropriate that the HSE has taken the steps it has taken not to proceed with the proposed prosecution."