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Case Summary: Charlotte Subuhon

Sep 12, 2020


Charlotte Subuhon drowned at a birthday party she attended at the Chafford Sports Centre pool in Rainham, Essex, in November 2000. The party took the form of a traditional pool party alongside 36 other children (BBC, 2003).

Havering Council’s Executive Director, Cynthia Griffin, said shortly following the incident that the Chafford facility was immediately closed and would not reopen until a "first-class service" for our users could be guaranteed. Pool parties at the site were stopped immediately following the tragedy.

An inquest was held into Charlotte’s death which concluded that her death was accidental. The police ruled out any possible charges for manslaughter and, as per the protocol, handed the case to the HSE for further investigation. The HSE took control of the investigation on the basis that Havering Council were a potential defendant. Havering Council were charged with a breach of  s.3(1), HSWA 1974.

Havering Council pleaded guilty at the trial held at the Old Bailey in London (BBC, 2003). Ms Caroline Knight, who appeared for the prosecution, told the court that the pool had been underfunded and understaffed with an untrained manager who was struggling to keep it open (BBC, 2003). She told the court how Charlotte had been playing “peek-a-boo” near a large float but was later seen floating face down by another child (BBC, 2003). Despite being given first aid by a lifeguard and airlifted by helicopter to the hospital. Charlotte died shortly after her arrival at the hospital.

The prosecution told the court that the 36 children in the pool were aged between 4 and 8 years old, with only two lifeguards on the poolside and two parents in the water (BBC, 2003). The prosecution said the supervision at the time of the death was “grossly inadequate”. The prosecution stated that pool parties had provided a good source of income for the centre at a time when the budget was limited.

The council’s own investigation into the accident revealed weaknesses in the site’s safety management processes. They issued a detailed action plan of measures to optimise safety at all of the council’s pools, which was submitted to the HSE in May 2001 (HCM, 2003).

The Court heard that only two lifeguards and two adults were present to supervise 36 children at the chronically underfunded facility run by the council. A report submitted by the HSE said the pool had been run on a “haphazard and at the worst chaotic basis for four years.” The pool was run on a very limited budget (BBC, 2003). The pool’s manager was so short of money that he had to carry out maintenance and painted the foyer himself (BBC, 2003). The council as a whole was chronically underfunded (BBC, 2003).

Mr Gordon Catford of Havering Council said the pool parties had been stopped at the centre after Charlotte’s death. A meeting between the council and health and safety officials on Wednesday 19th March 2003 resulted in Havering Council shutting the pool because funding was unavailable. The case was adjourned for sentencing.

Sentencing took place on Thursday, 20 March 2003. Mr Anthony Morris QC, Recorder, fined the council £75,000 (BBC, 2003) and, in addition, the prosecution costs of £8000.

What is remarkable is that with up to 400 children a week attending pool parties a tragic accident such as this had not occurred in the pool before. The only penalty I can impose is a financial penalty. Whatever the level of that fine, I know it cannot compensate Charlotte’s parents for their tragic loss, and I don’t seek to do so…Mr and Mrs Subuhon [are not] interested so much in the severity of the fine imposed on the defendant as ensuring that the steps are taken by the defendant to reduce the risk of a similar tragedy occurring.

Charlotte’s parents, Mr Kevin Subuhon and Mrs Leonie Subuhon attended the trial of the Havering Council (BBC, 2003). They said outside court:

Charlotte was like every other six-year-old. She was loving, shy, popular, and bright. She was our beacon of light. The fine is not important to our family. We just want to make sure that no other children die in this way. No one should have to go through what we did.


References (5)

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. 

BBC News. (2003). Pool shut after six-year-old drowns. (19th March, 18:24). Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2865841.stm accessed 20th September 2020.

BBC News. (2003). Council fined £75,000 after pool death. (20th March, 13:10). Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2868577.stm accessed 20th September 2020.

EDS. (2003). Health and Safety Bulletin. A digest of recent health and safety articles and case. Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council. Economic and Development Services. (11th April, 00:00). Available at: https://moderngov.rotherham.gov.uk/Data/Health,%20Welfare%20and%20Safety%20Panel/20030411/Agenda/$Health%20and%20Safety%20Bulletin.doc.pdf accessed 20th September 2020.

HCM. (2003). £75,000 fine for pool death. (21st March, 00:00). Available at: https://www.healthclubmanagement.co.uk/health-club-management-news/%C2%A375000-fine-for-pool-death/4142 accessed 20th September 2020.

Roach, A. (2020). Havering Council makes difficult decision to close Rainham's Chafford Sports Complex. (13th October, 12:47; first published 18th March, 12:02). Available at: https://www.romfordrecorder.co.uk/news/rainham-s-chafford-sports-complex-set-to-close-3208288 accessed 26th December 2020. 


Citation: Jacklin, D. 2020. Case Summary: Charlotte Subuhon. Water Incident Research Hub, 12 September.