Barking and Dagenham Council chief’s ex firm fined over failures leading to death of young girl

Barking and Dagenham Council chief executive Graham Farrant

Barking and Dagenham Council chief executive Graham Farrant - Credit: Archant

Calls for the resignation of a council boss have come after a leisure company he formerly ran was found to have failed in providing sufficient numbers of lifeguards at its pools, leading to the drowning of a seven-year-old girl.

Graham Farrant, the chief executive of Barking and Dagenham Council since July 2011, was in charge of Leisure Connection for close to five years from 2004, leaving the company after Michelle Gellard’s death, which happened on June 14, 2008.

The company, which operated the Blackwater Leisure Centre in Essex where the incident occurred, was fined £90,000 and ordered to pay more than £100,000 in costs at Chelmsford Crown Court on July 18.

The court found the company had failed to provide adequate numbers of lifeguards for the swimming pool, falling short of its own procedures.

Paul Burns, of website Leisure Connection Watch, said: “This loss of life and persistent pattern of insufficient lifeguards happened on Mr Farrant’s watch.

“He walked away from the company not long after the drowning, I do not see why he should be entrusted with a major public role when his leadership did not prevent the scandal in Essex.

“I think Mr Farrant should resign from his current position.”

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Two lifeguards were on poolside duty when Michelle drowned, the court heard. One of them retrieved her body from the water but, despite resuscitation attempts, she was later pronounced dead at Colchester General Hospital.

Prosecutors the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) concluded that Leisure Connection failed over a period of time to ensure that sufficient, suitably positioned lifeguards were always on poolside duty to ensure the safety of pool users.

“This tragic and untimely death should never have happened,” said HSE inspector Antonina Drury. “Michelle Gellard was robbed of her chances of rescue and survival by Leisure Connection’s failures.”

A council spokesman confirmed Mr Farrant left the employ of Leisure Connections in early 2009 and added he had not been involved in the investigation or hearing and therefore cannot comment on the detailed findings or the outcome.

Mr Farrant did not comment on calls for his resignation but said: “This tragic incident struck us all hard at the time and my sympathies remain with Michelle’s parents who lost their daughter.”