Water park where schoolgirl drowned had ‘high risk of death’ because of safety failures, says judge

Kyra Hill
Kyra Hill was at a birthday party at the water park when the tragedy happened - Family handout/PA

A water park where an 11-year-old girl drowned at a birthday party had safety failures that caused a “high risk of death”, a judge has said.

Kyra Hill died on Aug 6 2022 after getting into difficulty in a pool that was almost 15ft deep and had no signs warning of the depth at Liquid Leisure in Windsor, Reading Crown Court was told on Friday.

Liquid Leisure’s response when Kyra went missing was described as confused and chaotic, and the court heard emergency services were only called 30 minutes after the alarm was raised.

Fining Liquid Leisure £80,000 and ordering it to pay £30,000 costs, Judge Heather Norton said: “A child or even an adult could have been lulled into a false sense of security and made assumptions about the depth of the water until they were out of their depth.”

Wellwishers lay flowers outside the water park in memory of Kyra after her death
Wellwishers lay flowers outside the water park in memory of Kyra after her death - Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

At a hearing in February, the company had admitted one count of failure to discharge general health/safety duty. The park, which was prosecuted by Windsor and Maidenhead Borough Council, closed permanently in November last year.

The court was told Kyra, from Croydon, got into difficulty in a designated swimming area of the water park and emergency services were called at 3:55pm. She was found unconscious at 5.10pm, and pronounced dead in hospital later that day.

Prosecutor Laura Phillips said the pool Kyra drowned in was  4.5m deep and that there was no mandatory use of a buoyancy aid in the swimming pool area for competent swimmers over the age of six.

She said: “Given the lack of any emergency plan for such a scenario, Liquid Leisure’s reaction was confused, chaotic and wholly ineffective.

“The critical window in which Kyra might have been retrieved and successfully resuscitated was wasted.”

Ms Phillips went on: “There were no signs or warnings about the depth of the lake. On the contrary, the only signage in relation to depth misleadingly stated ‘Danger – Shallow water’ and the beach was presented as suitable for families and young children.

“It was entirely foreseeable that in those circumstances customers may not realise that the lake was deep, and also that children playing in the swim area might accidentally or deliberately get out of their depth and may not have understood or appreciated the danger of doing so.

‘False sense of safety’

“The prosecution says this created a false sense of safety for the parents and children in the area.”

The prosecutor added: “There was no emergency plan or priority given to searching the water... the area was not cleared and activities carried on as normal.

“Nobody checked CCTV to confirm what had happened. These searches were not organised, directed or supervised by anyone and were seemingly carried out at random.

“There were 20 members of staff and 20 members of public searching the water in a chaotic fashion.”

The court heard that it took around 14 minutes after Kyra’s disappearance for the water to be cleared. It took 30 minutes for anyone to contact emergency services, who arrived at 4:12pm.

Ms Phillips said there were multiple failures that “materially contributed to Kyra’s death.”

The prosecutor said that no blame was attached to the lifeguard on duty, who the judge said had “acted promptly to try to save Kyra.”

Stuart Marston, director of Liquid Leisure
Stuart Marston, the director of Liquid Leisure, was in court for the sentencing hearing on Friday - Hyde News & Pictures Ltd/HNP Newsdesk

Angus Withington, for Liquid Leisure, said: “The steps taken by Liquid Leisure indicate significant thought and consideration given to address the risk of drowning.

“It is unfair to say that the risk assessment was wholly inadequate, on the contrary, putting in place a series of measures... to reduce the risk for those who fell within the definition of a competent swimmer.

“Those arrangements put in place by Liquid Leisure in consideration to the potential risks to a non-swimmer, and belief it could be managed by a competent lifeguard are not atypical within the industry.”

Mr Withington added: “Participants could have been cleared from the area and emergency services could have been called more promptly after Kyra’s disappearance.

“Of course the company did have an emergency plan but the emergency plan did not cover the eventuality of somebody becoming fully submerged in the water.

Company ‘did not fall far short’

“We respectfully submit the company’s culpability is not high as the company did not fall far short of appropriate standards, in particular failing to put in measures.”

Judge Norton said there was a “high risk of death” deriving from the control measures in place at the lake at the time of Kyra’s death.

She told the schoolgirl’s family: “I want to tell you how sorry I am. No amount of money can make up for Kyra’s loss, every life is priceless.

“The size of the fine could never be worth the life of Kyra or the meaning of her life.”