Essex: Swimming tragedy girl inquest due to open

AN inquest into the death of a seven-year-old girl whose body was discovered in a swimming pool at an Essex leisure centre is due to start today – nearly three years after the tragedy.

Michelle Gellard died at Blackwater Leisure Centre in Park Drive, Maldon, on June 14, 2008, after visiting the centre with her mother, Sian Lakey, to compete in a judo competition.

After taking part in the event Michelle went for a swim in the pool while her mother remained in the main hall with her niece who was still in the competition.

Ms Lakey, of East London, said she had initially refused Michelle permission to swim, but eventually agreed after another parent offered to supervise her daughter in the pool.

The girl was later pulled from the water by staff and fellow swimmers after being spotted floating on the water by a member of the public.

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After failed attempts by St John’s ambulance crew to resuscitate the youngster at the scene, she was taken by air ambulance to Colchester General Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Mark Gellard, Michelle’s father, said: “My partner and I are still grieving for our daughter. She was our pride and joy.

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“She always brought a smile to our faces and it is hard knowing we will never again get to hold our daughter and tell her that we love her. She will never be forgotten.

“We don’t want this to happen to another child. It the most heartbreaking thing to go though and we hope that lessons are learnt from this.”

Peter Todd, the solicitor for the Gellard family, said: “This case potentially has significant implications for all those involved in lifeguarding or managing a swimming pool, and for parents of children using a pool.

“It is important lessons are learned to ensure this particularly distressing tragedy never happens again.”

The inquest has been listed for nine days, from May 9 to 20 at the Essex Records Office in Chelmsford, before HM Coroner for Essex and Thurrock, Caroline Beasley-Murray, sitting with a jury.

It will seek to establish the exact cause of Michelle’s death and the role of those present on the day, including the lifeguards on duty. The Gellard family, Maldon District Council, Leisure Connection and the St. John’s Ambulance will all be represented.

The Blackwater Leisure Centre is owned by Maldon District Council, but is managed by Leisure Connection Ltd, a private company which runs numerous swimming pools in the UK.

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