Manslaughter charge for pool death a first
The news that police have charged the owner of a backyard pool with manslaughter after a toddler wandered into his garden and drowned should ring alarm bells for all home owners.
It is understood to be the first case of its kind in Australia. According to reports the owner of the house with the pool was inside his Armidale home watching TV when unknown to him a two year old boy wandered into his back yard.
The boy had been with his mother nearby and walked off when she wasn’t looking “for a second”. Reports said somehow the toddler got through the inadequate fencing the man had around his dilapidated pool and fell in.
After a two month investigation police charged the owner of the house with manslaughter saying he had not adequately fenced the pool as he was required to do by law.
Under the Swimming Pools Act all pools built after 1 August 1990 must have a child resistant fence that complies with safety standards. Local councils inspect all new pools to make sure they comply.
Pools built before 1 August 1990 don’t have to have a swimming pool fence, but access must be blocked from the street or adjoining properties.
If someone complains about the safety of a pool to the local council it is required to inspect it and can order the owner to comply with the Act. Fines for not complying can be as high as $5,500.
It’s understood that in this tragic case neighbours had complained about inadequate fencing around the pool, but hadn’t made a formal complaint to the council. Therefore the council wasn’t obliged to check the pool.
Police can charge a person with manslaughter over badly fenced pools on the grounds of criminal negligence. Police will need to prove the owner has a duty of care as owner of a pool and his breach of that duty of care caused the toddler to drown.
In 2010 the Deputy State Coroner recommended a new law of criminal negligence for pool deaths after eight children drowned in 2008-09. But this latest tragedy highlights the need for pool owners to go further than the letter of the law and make their pool as safe as possible.
For just $70 you can get your council to inspect your pool and give you a certificate of compliance to show you have installed all the safety devices. If you are worried about someone’s pool, make that formal complaint to the council. If you are worried about doing that, you can get legal help. Better to be safe than sorry.