Tragic boy, 12, allowed into pool despite being unable to swim

A 12-year-old boy who could not swim accidentally drowned in a swimming pool while on a foreign school trip to the UK, a coroner has ruled.

Muhammed Talha Baber, who was known as Talha, was discovered floating face down at Newlands School’s activity centre, in Seaford, East Sussex, on the evening of July 1 last year.

An inquest at Eastbourne Magistrates’ Court was told yesterday the youngster had come to the UK on a school trip from Pakistan which was organised by Ardmore Language School Ltd, a company which arranges and provides cultural and education travel for students from around the world.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The company is contracted by the Beaconhouse School System of Pakistan (SSP), which has 195,000 students worldwide and owns three schools in the UK, including Newlands School and others in Yorkshire, through its UK subsidiary Beaconhouse Educational Services Ltd.

The court heard that even though Talha’s mother had told the ambassadors taking the trip her son could not swim, there had been a break down in communication which led to him getting into the pool.

East Sussex Coroner Alan Craze heard the swimming session had been impromptu and Timothy Carter, who was the facilities manager at Newlands at the time and a qualified lifeguard, had been asked if he would man the swimming session at 7.30pm.

Mr Carter said about 17 boys entered the pool in dribs and drabs and during the session he had to have words with two who were holding their breath under water and another who was walking too fast along the side of the pool.

He told the court he had only manned a life-guarding session at the pool once before and had not read the pool operating procedures manual.

Mr Carter said he had not taken a register as the boys entered the pool and was not told about their swimming abilities, or that Talha could not swim.

“I was confident that my qualifications would stand me in good stead at the pool. I thought others would have made the checks of a register of the boys at the pool and their swimming abilities.”

Mr Carter said he was looking across to the other side of the pool when he noticed Talha half submerged.

For about four or five seconds he thought the boy was messing around and prodded him with a rescue pole he was carrying, but when Talha failed to move two boys with him lifted him up to Mr Carter who pulled him out, the inquest heard.

He said: “He was quite a light boy so I lifted him out easily to start resuscitation.”

Mr Carter denied he had been slow to act and said there had not been an air of hysteria or panic when he saw Talha in the water and the boys had appeared quite calm. Paramedics were on the scene within six or seven minutes and Talha was taken to Eastbourne District General Hospital where he died.

Detective Inspector Martin Sapwell, who led the Sussex Police investigation, told the inquest he had found no evidence of criminal liability, and Graham Goodenough, from the Health and Safety Executive, told the hearing there was unlikely to be any further action in relation to the incident on their part once the inquest was over.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, Mr Craze said: “At the end of the day this is a dreadful tragedy for all of the family of this little boy.

“I am a parent myself. I have children of 15 and 10 years and I ask myself how I would have reacted if this had happened to me, and the answer is I just do not know.”

Hassan Rabbeni, representing Talha’s family, and Sobia Ishaque, Talha’s aunt, said they were disappointed as the inquest left them with more questions than answers.