Leisure Connection fined £200,000 over Michelle Gellard drowning at Blackwater centre

Micelle Gellard, 7, winning her silver cup just before she drowned in 2008

Micelle Gellard, 7, winning her silver cup just before she drowned in 2008 - Credit: NO CREDIT PLEASE

The operator of a leisure centre where a seven-year-old girl from east London drowned has been fined nearly £200,000 with costs.

Michelle Gellard died swimming in a pool with other children at the Blackwater leisure centre at Maldon in Essex on June 14, 2008.

The young judo enthusiast from the Isle of Dogs had won a silver cup in a contest at the centre just moments before she was “robbed of her chance of survival.”

The leisure centre operator, Leisure Connection, was in court today—four days after the fifth anniversary of Michelle’s death—following a lengthy investigation by the Health & Safety Executive identifying “serious failings with lifeguard cover.”

Two lifeguards were on poolside duty on the day, increasing to three, when members of the public found Michelle face down at the bottom of the deep end, Chelmsford Crown Court heard.

A lifeguard and a St John Ambulance officer attending the judo contest tried to revive her at the poolside after she was pulled out of the water.

She was rushed by air ambulance to Colchester Hospital where doctors continued the battle to save her, but she was pronounced dead later that day.

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Leisure Connection failed to ensure that sufficient, suitably-positioned lifeguards were always on poolside duty to ensure swimmers’ safety, the investigation concluded.

The company had failed to identify that safety procedures at the centre were inadequate or weren’t complying with its own procedures, the court was told.

Leisure Connection was fined £90,000 with £101,663 costs after admitting breaching the 1974 Health & Safety at Work Act.

“This tragic and untimely death should never have happened,” Health & Safety inspector Antonina Drury said after the hearing.

“The public is entitled to expect the operator paid to run the centre will provide sufficient lifeguards in the right places to operate the pool safely.

“Michelle Gellard was robbed of her chances of rescue and survival by Leisure Connection’s failures.”

Michelle was a keen member of the Docklands Dragons judo club in Millwall who had won a silver medal in a contest at the Blackwater centre that day.

The club’s Fred Turner described her as “a live wire who was always on the go” and introduced her at the prize-giving as “Michelle ‘Attitude’ Gellard.”

Her parents, Mark Gellard and Sian Lakey, who had three other children, said in a statement after the tragedy: “Michelle was a cheeky little madam with attitude who could make anyone laugh, but was also a loving, helpful and confident little girl.”

Assemblies were held at Michelle’s school, Harbinger Primary, where classmates were offered counselling.

Head-teacher Mandy Kellegher said at the time that Michelle had “an extraordinary gift for caring for others.”

Michelle’s funeral at the Quaystone Church at Millwall’s Docklands Settlement was packed. Her pink coffin was later taken to the City of London cemetery at Manor Park for cremation.

The family left their home in Millwall soon after and moved to Kent, but returned to the Isle of Dogs last year and were living in Cubitt Town.