THE parents of Lydia Bishop said nothing would compensate them for her loss after York College was made to pay £220,000 over her death at its nursery.
Speaking publicly for the first time since their three-year-old daughter died, Rebecca Dick andBrad Bishop said they were disappointed the college did not admit its failing until it was convicted last week.
They acknowledged the college had finally apologised, 17 months after Lydia’s death on September 17, 2012, but said it was obvious fatal mistakes were made that day and in the weeks and months before, and that Lydia was not properly cared for.
They said nothing could compensate for their loss, but they anticipated a larger fine for the college. Both parents sat in the public gallery throughout the trial, and relived their daughter’s last moments.
The college was fined £175,000 plus prosecution costs of £45,453.94 for failure to ensure the safety of children at the nursery between August 1, 2012 and September 18, 2012. It had denied the charge.
At Leeds Crown Court yesterday, Mr Justice Coulson said: “A child is priceless, so the loss of a child is an irredeemable loss.”
He praised the courage, dignity and restraint of Lydia’s parents.
He said “specific” and “systemic” failures by the college had exposed other children, all aged five or under, to a similar risk.
He criticised two college employees, the then nursery manager Liz Radford and health and safety manager David Jackson, for their part in the breaches that led directly to Lydia catching her neck in a rope on the nursery slide and dying. The court heard she lay trapped and unnoticed for 20 minutes.
The sentence was not intended to put a value on Lydia’s life, nor diminish the college’s “hard-won reputation as an outstanding college of further education which makes an extremely important and valuable contribution to the life of the city”, he said.
The college’s barrister Richard Lynagh QC told him the permanent closure of the nursery following Lydia’s death had cost the college at least £400,000. He spoke of the college’s “deep sadness and profound regret” at Lydia’s death and said it apologised “unreservedly” for the failure that led to it.
The college had no previous convictions and the breach was an “isolated” lapse.
The judge said the college had a “careful and thoughtful” approach to health and safety.
The court heard the college expects to make a £400,000 surplus this financial year and that 83 per cent of its income is public money.
• Statement from Lydia’s parents
“Over the last four weeks, attending Leeds Crown Court for the trial of Sophee Redhead and York College has been really tough. However we feel that we had to be there to learn what had happened and to hear the answers that we, as Lydia’s parents, deserve.
“We have relived those last moments of Lydia’s life in grave detail and heard evidence over and over surrounding the events of that day. For the last 17 months we felt terribly let down that throughout the process, no one had accepted any responsibility for what happened to Lydia, which has made it even harder to deal with. It is obvious that fatal mistakes were made, both on that day and in the weeks and months leading up to it, and that Lydia was not properly cared for.
“We are disappointed that it is not until the jury reached their verdict that the college have finally admitted their failings and we acknowledge that they have finally apologised through their statement to the press.
“Although nothing could ever compensate for our tragic loss, we anticipated a more substantial penalty would be imposed on York College.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank North Yorkshire Police and Robert Smith QC for their efforts in bringing the case to its conclusion. We feel that we have remained dignified throughout the last 17 months and respectfully request that the members of the press respect our privacy at this time.”
Miss Redhead, a junior member of the nursery staff, was acquitted of manslaughter and an alternative health and safety charge.
• Statement from the college
College principal Alison Birkinshaw, said: “We remain deeply saddened by the events of September 17, 2012, and we know that no family can ever recover from the death of a child. Nothing can reduce the pain felt by Lydia’s family and we are truly sorry for what has happened. Lydia and her family will be forever in our thoughts.
“We remain committed to learning from these tragic events and took the difficult decision to close the nursery permanently immediately after the tragedy. While the nursery was separate from the college, we also brought in the British Safety Council to conduct a full inspection of health and safety implementation across all college sites.
“As noted by the judge in his closing sentencing remarks: ‘the college has taken a number of steps to ensure that this sort of accident could not happen again.’ “We would like to thank the local community for the support shown to everyone affected by these terrible events.”
• Judge’s criticisms of the college
The judge said the college ignored a staff warning that, if heeded, would have prevented Lydia’s death by putting the slide behind a fence and lockable gate. It had not ignored it for financial reasons.
“It was instead an inexplicable and unjustified error of judgement,” said the judge, which was the responsibility of Mrs Radford and Mr Jackson and part of a “specific” health and safety failure.
The college had foreseen the risk that children might strangle themselves in the rope, but had no system in place for checking that ropes were put away immediately after use in accordance with its own health and safety policy.
Although it was a “systemic” failure, Mr Jackson was principally responsible. There was no evidence that he had carried out routine or regular checks or that control measures were carried out.
The jury heard that rope was often not put away immediately after supervised play with it, and Lydia got to the slide through a makeshift barrier when she was unsupervised and the rope had been left out.
THE judge strongly criticised a statement by North Yorkshire Police following last week’s conviction.
Mr Justice Coulson said comments by Det Chief Inspector Nigel Costello were “positively damaging” and accused him of a “cheap, easy jibe” and “crass generalisations”.
DCI Costello had said health and safety was more than a “tick box exercise”.
He also referred to the rope having been in place for two months, which the judge said was “wholly inaccurate”.
He added: “It is an abuse of the criminal justice system for the police to provide their own, incorrect reasons.”
The prosecution barrister had said in his case opening that the college had a tick-box approach to health and safety.
Det Chief Supt Simon Mason said last night: “I am satisfied that DCI Costello intended to do no more than to properly inform the public of the particulars of the case.”