YORK College has been found guilty over the death of a three-year-old girl at its nursery, and a worker accused of manslaughter has been cleared.
Lydia Bishop died on her first day at the nursery when she became entangled in a rope left on a slide in the playground and was left there unseen for 20 minutes.
A jury yesterday found the college guilty of failing to ensure children’s safety between August 1 and September 18, 2012, and cleared nursery worker Sophee Redhead, who had been accused of gross negligence manslaughter and failing to ensure Lydia’s safety.
The jury had been told safety measures to prevent children using ropes on their own or going unsupervised to a slide were not enforced at the nursery.
Lydia, who lived with her mother Rebecca Dick, in South Bank, York, died on September 17, 2012, after the rope was left tied to the slide against health and safety policy. She was able to pass a barrier that staff knew did not stop children reaching the slide.
Mum-of-one Miss Redhead, 25, of Wenham Road, Foxwood, wept as she was acquitted. The jury of six men and six women took three hours to find her not guilty after a three-week trial at Leeds Crown Court.
Asked if he would allow Miss Redhead to leave the dock, judge Mr Justice Coulson said: “It would be an extremely pleasant thing for me to be able to do.” Miss Redhead left the court overcome with emotion.
Dr Alison Birkinshaw, college principal and chief executive, said: “This has been an extremely difficult period for all involved and we remain devastated by the awful events of September 17, 2012.
“We deeply regret what happened and we can’t begin to imagine the pain experienced by Lydia’s family and everyone affected by this terrible tragedy. They remain constantly in our thoughts.
“The governing body and all at York College respect fully the legal judgements made in this case and remain committed to learning from this tragedy.”
The college will be sentenced next week. The maximum punishment for its offence is an unlimited fine.
Lydia’s parents Rebecca Dick and Bradley Bishop have not commented on the case.
The nursery was closed immediately after the tragedy and will not reopen.
Detective Chief Inspector Nigel Costello, of North Yorkshire Police, said: “This was an extremely tragic case for all concerned, not least for Lydia’s family who have been left devastated by the loss of their daughter.”
The force investigated the tragedy with the Health and Safety Executive, and DCI Costello said he hoped the case would warn other organisations it was not enough to just have written health and safety procedures.
Miss Redhead’s barrister Alistair MacDonald QC told the jury the college tried to blame her for Lydia’s death. Miss Redhead was one of two staff in the playground when Lydia, a “bright, happy” child, went to the slide.
The jury saw CCTV evidence of a rope left overnight on the slide in the hours before Lydia’s death and heard it had been left out on previous occasions.
They heard the risk of children injuring themselves by getting rope tangled round their necks was specifically identified in a college risk assessment which said all ropes should be put away after use and only used under supervision and which said children could only use the slide under supervision.
Robert Smith QC, for the prosecution, had said management allowed a culture to develop for weeks, possibly longer, where safety measures were disregarded. He said they had a “tick box” approach to health and safety. The nursery cared for children from birth to five years old.
The jury heard the college awarded itself an “outstanding” grade in an internal health and safety audit of the nursery that was conducted through a questionnaire and emails, but did not include an inspection of the nursery in operation.
Giving evidence for the prosecution, nursery manager Liz Radford had said she had seen nothing to concern her when she inspected the slide area as part of her duties.
She broke down in the witness box when she was shown a photograph of the slide immediately after Lydia’s death with the rope attached.
Other nursery staff, who were prosecution witnesses, said she was rarely seen in the nursery garden, spending much of her time in the nursery office or on teaching duties elsewhere in the college.
They also said they did not see the health and safety manager David Jackson inspect the nursery, and that if he came, it was in response to issues raised by the nursery.
Neither he nor the principal gave evidence during the trial, though Dr Birkinshaw defended the college’s health and safety procedures when police interviewed her as a representative of the college.
In a statement made at the start of her police interview, Dr Birkinshaw said on behalf of the college that its health and safety policies were backed up by regular on site checks by management at different levels.