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Case Summary: Blakeney Dear

Oct 02, 2020


On Tuesday, 19 February 2013, Blakeney Dear attended a holiday activity club at the David Lloyd Leisure Heston Club in Southall, Hounslow. Blakeney was five years old when he arrived at the Club with his mother to complete the registration form and attend the holiday activities there. Mrs Dear explained that her son could not swim but was confident in the water wearing armbands.

Staff working on the 19th of February were informed that Blakeney could not swim in a form completed by his mother. Mrs Dear was unaware that the Club did not have armbands to provide Blakeney for the scheduled swimming sessions that were to take place alongside other activities during the camp. The critical information about Blakeney being a non-swimmer was not passed to the Family Active Co-Ordinator.

When Blakeney attended poolside on the 20th, the staff were not aware that Blakeney could not swim and issued him with a pool noodle (woggle) as his only floatation device. Blakeney’s standing height was less than the 1.2-metre shallow end. No armbands were available at the Club. A team member asked non-swimmers, including Blakeney, to come to her to get a Woggle (floatation aid) but failed to supervise him for most of his time in the pool. There was no physical support from a staff member in the pool or for use of a floatation aid.

Blakeney was seen hanging onto the wall of the pool when he could be seen moving away from the wall before being unable to support himself in the water. He lay in the water unconscious for over five minutes before Blakeney was spotted by another child who asked the lifeguard to tell Blakeney to stop “bobbing up and down” in the pool. Blakeney was pulled from the water by the lifeguard, and CPR was begun by centre staff and later paramedics. He was taken from the site to the hospital, where he thankfully made a full recovery two days later.

An investigation was launched by the London Borough of Hounslow. The London Borough of Hounslow, after collecting evidence from the site, including witness statements, decided to charge David Lloyd Leisure Limited with a breach of s.3(1) HSWA 1974. The case proceeded to Feltham Magistrates Court, where David Lloyd Leisure pleaded guilty. The Magistrates then committed the case for sentence to Isleworth Crown Court on grounds their sentencing powers were insufficient.


R v David Lloyd Leisure Limited (2016) (Unreported, 16 November, Isleworth Crown Court)

At Isleworth Crown Court on Wednesday, 16 November 2016, David Lloyd Leisure Limited pleaded guilty to a single breach of s.3(1) HSWA 1974. Consequently, the HHJ John Denniss proceeded to a Newton Hearing to agree on the factual elements of the case that have an impact on sentencing. The prosecution was represented by David McNeil of Five St Andrew’s Hill chambers. David Lloyd Leisure, the defendant, was represented by Mr Simon Antrobus QC, of Crown Office Chambers.

The Court was shown CCTV footage of the poolside where Blakeney can be seen moving away from the edge of the pool without his noodle before being unable to support himself in the water. HHJ Denniss said:

Blakeney appeared to have been in that position of the pool for some six minutes. It is utterly extraordinary he did not die. It is the most fortunate part of this case is that he has made a full recovery. I have also heard he has now become a competent swimmer.

The CCTV shows inadequate supervision. There did not appear to be dedicated supervision of Blakeney and the coaches are involved with other activities during the particular period.

I accept the company adhered to the recommended ratio of two coaches to every sixteen swimmers for the activity undertaken. On the day of the incident there were two coaches to ten children and a trained lifeguard on duty. The companies risk assessment stated: “non swimmers are not allowed to attend splash sessions and armbands should be provided for inexperienced swimmers regardless of age.

That risk assessment was amended by Mr Daniel Nuth in July 2012, so that parents must provide armbands for inexperienced swimmers rather than the Club. The prohibition on non-swimmers attending splash sessions was removed by the same amendment.

It is my judgment that this accident was unlikely to have occurred if the specific child swimming policy had the risk assessment not been amended at a local level.

It was accepted by David Lloyd Leisure that their policy on amending risk assessments had been complied with by Mr Nuth and that it was a deficient amendment policy which was to blame, not the actions of Mr Nuth.

Applying the Sentencing Guidelines Council’s definitive guidelines for Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences, the judge placed the offending into Medium Culpability, Harm Level A, and the medium likelihood of harm (Harm Category 2). David Lloyd Leisure was assessed as a large company. David Lloyd was fined £330,000 and ordered to pay £22,131.75 in prosecution costs plus a victim surcharge of £120. The family had already settled a personal injury claim with David Lloyd as part of an out-of-court settlement between the parties.  

Councillor Sue Sampson, Cabinet Member for Community Protection, Hounslow Council, said:

This serious incident could have resulted in a fatality. Thankfully, the child involved has suffered no lasting consequences.

The Council’s thorough investigation has shown that the activity was meant to be run in a structured way, but instead the children were allowed into the pool for free play sessions. It is the largest fine secured by the Council in its history.

The situation could have been avoided if the club had ensured that staff given the role of running and supervising the swimming activity, and parents enrolling their children to take part, were made aware that children should either be competent swimmers or needed to wear armbands at all times.

Lessons have been learned by all involved and David Lloyd’s guilty plea has shown how seriously they have treated the incident.

Mr Simon Antrobus QC, on behalf of David Lloyd Leisure, said the company issued a full apology to Blakeney and his family:

We would like to express our deepest and most sincere apology to Blakeney and his family for the distress caused. We have accepted full responsibility for this incident. We have extensively reviewed our safety policies and training and the team members supervising the session are no longer with the business.

The safety and security of our members is our number one priority, and we would like to express our deepest and most sincere apologies to Blakeney and his family for the distress caused.

Families lie at the heart of David Lloyd Clubs and we strive to offer industry-leading standards of childcare and family activities. We have accepted full responsibility for this incident which happened nearly four years’ ago when the company was under a different ownership. It was an unacceptable breach of our child safety policies and we want to reassure everyone that we have taken stringent measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

It was an unacceptable breach of our child safety policies and we want to reassure everyone that we have taken stringent measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Following our investigation, we have extensively reviewed our safety policies to ensure the well-being of children in our clubs continues to be safe guarded at all times. We have changed our policy on risk assessments and no longer hold unstructured free play splash sessions at their pools. The Aqua Splash swim activity has also since been replaced by DL Kids Swim programme.

Those policies are embedded into the training that all team members working with children undergo, and we take firm and immediate action if any of the processes are not adhered to.

We can confirm that the team members supervising the session are no longer with the business.


References (8)

Note: wish those affected all the best in their future. No part of this article purports to attribute blame. See our methodology page for further details of how these case summaries are constructed. 

Downey, K. (2016). David Lloyd fined £330K after boy almost drowned in club pool. (IOSH Magazine, 22 November, 00:00). Available at: https://www.ioshmagazine.com/article/david-lloyd-fined-ps330k-after-boy-almost-drowned-club-pool accessed 30th September 2020.

Gordon, A. (2016). David Lloyd leisure centre is ordered to pay £350,000 after five-year-old boy nearly drowned in a swimming lesson – slipping under the water for almost six minutes (Daily Mail, 17 November, 12:35). Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3945318/Leisure-centre-owner-ordered-pay-350-000-five-year-old-boy-nearly-drowned-swimming-lesson-slipping-water-SIX-minutes.html accessed 30th September 2020.

Local Government Lawyer (2016a). Prosecution by council sees leisure firm fined £330,000 over swimming incident. (28th November). Available at: https://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/regulatory-and-enforcement/406-regulatory-news/32550-prosecution-by-council-sees-leisure-firm-fined-330-000-over-swimming-incident accessed 30th September 2020.

London Borough of Hounslow (2016). David Lloyd fined over £350,000. (16 November, 00:00). Available at: https://www.hounslow.gov.uk/news/article/61/david_lloyd_fined_over_350000  accessed 30th September 2020.

McNeill, D. (2016). Health and Safety prosecution of David Lloyd gym ordered to pay £350,000. (5SAH, 21st November, 00:00). Available at: https://www.5sah.co.uk/news-and-events/news/2016-11-21/david-mcneill-health-and-safety-prosecution-of-david-lloyd-gym-ordered-to-pay-350000  accessed 30th September 2020.

Narwan, G. (2016). Leisure centre must pay £350,000 after boy, 5, nearly died. (The Times, 18 November,  12.01) Available at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/boy-almost-drowned-in-david-lloyd-centre-pool-kjx68fksw accessed 30th September 2020.

Patel, S (2016). David Lloyd leisure centre fined £350K after five-year-old boy nearly drowns in Hounslow pool (MyLondon, 17 November 2016, 16:01). Available at: https://www.mylondon.news/news/west-london-news/david-lloyd-leisure-centre-fined-12190057  accessed 30th September 2020.

Patel, S (2016). David Lloyd Leisure chain fined £350K after five-year-old boy nearly drowned in pool. (Surrey Live, 18 November, 15.00). Available at: https://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/david-lloyd-leisure-chain-fined-12197066 accessed 30th September 2020. 


Citation: Jacklin, D. 2020. Case Summary: Blakeney Dear. Water Incident Research Hub, 2 October.