Pontins managers ‘should have death on consciences’ says judge

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Bosses at a former holiday camp should have a woman’s death from Legionnaires’ Disease “on their consciences” after problems with the water system were ignored, a judge has said.

Karen Taylor, 53, from Birmingham, caught the bug while on holiday at the Pontins Holiday Centre in Blackpool, Lancashire, in July 2009.

The mother-of-two developed pneumonia before she was diagnosed with the disease and died on August 29 that year.

She had stayed in Chalet 229 at the holiday park with her husband – the same room where Margaret Coote, 63, from Chesterfield, had complained of feeling unwell two days into her holiday with relatives that March. Mrs Coote later spent five weeks in hospital after suffering a heart attack and symptoms associated with the disease, but has since recovered.

Pontins Ltd, which is in administration, was found guilty of breaching health and safety laws by putting holidaymakers and staff at risk of harm through the management of the camp’s water system.

Water temperatures were such that it “promoted the proliferation of the bacteria”, Preston Crown Court heard.

The case was heard before a jury in the absence of the defendant who was not represented – a decision made by the administrators so as not to incur legal costs.

The Blackpool site closed in October 2009 but it is understood the holiday group has since been bought by an investment group linked to a hotel chain and continues to operate under the Pontins name.

The Recorder of Preston, Judge Anthony Russell QC said: “I am satisfied that this is indeed, as the prosecution submits, a shocking and grave case.”

He said Pontins Ltd was alerted to a potential problem of legionella bacteria as far back as 2006. It had the benefit of a detailed risk assessment from a specialist water treatment firm and material readily available from the Health and Safety Executive but failed to take any adequate action, even after employees raised their own concerns about poorly functioning boilers and low water temperature.

Warnings were ignored which “must have been considered at the highest level of management”.

“Even after the incident involving Mrs Coote was known about, no action was taken with the consequence that Mrs Taylor was put at risk,” he added.

“There were serious management failings here and those who are responsible should have the death of Mrs Taylor and the ill-health of Mrs Coote on their consciences.”

He said the company was in administration and he was satisfied there were no assets from which any appropriate penalty could be met, although the company was insured and claims had been met or were being processed.

The judge said if it had been a company making “reasonable profits” he would have imposed a fine of £500,000 with costs but instead he had decided to impose a nominal fine of £1,000.

Mrs Taylor’s relatives had wept in the public gallery as pathologist Dr Alison Armour described the terrible effects of the disease, saying her lungs had been “destroyed”.

Outside court, the grandmother-of-six’s daughter Lisa Fisher said: “My mum loved Pontins, she went every year and went to Blackpool a few times.

“We have never received an apology from them. We have never heard anything from them, it’s disgusting.

“The chalet block where she was staying should have been closed after Mrs Coote fell ill.”

Fylde Borough Council, which brought the prosecution, said investigations revealed systematic failures in management to implement measures to eliminate the legionella bacteria. The company also failed to prevent contamination of the cold water supply at the site from roosting pigeons.

Other Pontins sites are not tainted by this case and are now run by an entirely different company.