Knapp House must pay £90,000 for pool death of George Miller

Knapp House in Northam.

Knapp House in Northam. - Credit: Archant

An activity centre has been ordered to pay £90,000 in fines and costs after a four-year-old boy died in its murky and unsupervised swimming pool. 

George Miller drowned in the small indoor pool at the Knapp House centre between Northam and Appledore in North Devon, but his body was not found for more than three hours after it sank into the deep end. 

The water was so cloudy and visibility so poor that nobody noticed George’s body sinking to the bottom of the deep end of the pool, which was crowded with children and adults. 

A tarpaulin cover was pulled over the pool and the building locked up with George’s body still in the 2.3-metre-deep deep end. 

The pool was being used by some of the 180 members of a Narcotics Anonymous group which had been camping at Knapp House for a week before the tragedy. 

You may also want to watch:

A company employee was present at the pool but was not acting as a lifeguard and at one point had gone swimming with the campers. 

He had also thrown flotation devices into the pool for children to use but they were designed as lifejackets for canoeists and were unsuitable for small children. 

Most Read

George was swimming with his father Julian and siblings aged five and two when he died. His family had filmed his jumping into the same pool the day before while wearing a flotation device. 

The family, from Weymouth, wrote victim impact statements saying they and George’s siblings had been devastated since his death. 

Knapp House limited, which is company run by brothers Stewart and Ashley Clements, aged 63 and 55, admitted breaching health and safety regulations by failing to ensure the safety of the public. 

The company was fined £60,000 with £30,000 costs by Judge David Evans at Exeter Crown Court. 

He said: “There is nothing I can do in passing sentence that could ever come close to making up for this awful tragedy and George’s absence. No sentence can repair the unbearable pain his loss has caused. 

“The bottom line is that the way in which the pool was being made available was very lax indeed. It was woefully lax. 

“There was no one to keep an eye out for people in trouble or the clarity of water to see that George was in difficulty and there was no opportunity to save him. 

The case has taken more than three years to come to court because there was a criminal inquiry by the police before it was decided to prosecute for a health and safety offence instead. 

Mr David Sapiecha, prosecuting on behalf of Torridge Council, said the organiser of the Narcotics Anonymous trip believed the pool had a lifeguard and was safe for children and adults. 

He said there were a series of safety failures, starting with a lack of a risk assessment and moving on to the lack of a lifeguard, the poor water quality, no signs to mark the deep end, and no emergency plan. 

He said George’s father raised the alarm at 12.40 pm on August 28, 2017, but his body was not found until 3.25 pm. 

In the meantime, the pool had been closed, reopened, used by another group, closed, covered and locked again before the body was found. 

A police officer had to pullback a tarpaulin and get Stewart Clements to drag the pool with a net before George was recovered. 

Mr Sapiecha said: “The company failed to put in place measures that are standard in the industry. There was a lack of a risk assessment, a lifeguard, reasonable maintenance or water clarity and no adequate controls of the number and type of users. 

“The way the pool was operated was a significant cause of the death of George.” 

Mr Sandesh Singh, defending, said the pool was not normally open to the school groups which use the centre for activity trips and the permission for the Narcotics Anonymous was a one-off goodwill arrangement. 

He said it should not be compared to a company which runs a public swimming pool. The company has since made changes to ensure good water quality and safe operation. 

He offered an apology to George’s family on behalf of the company and the directors.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter