No lifeguard at pool where girl drowned at friend's birthday party, inquest told

A seven-year-old girl drowned at her best friend's birthday pool party while there was no lifeguard on duty, an inquest heard.

Maya Kantengule was found at the bottom of the swimming pool at Waveney River Centre holiday park in Burgh St Peter, Norfolk on May 1 2016, an inquest in Norwich heard on Wednesday.

Senior coroner Jacqueline Lake said Maya was retrieved from the pool but was declared dead later that day at the James Paget University Hospital near Great Yarmouth.

Maya's father Livial Kantengule, who was at the hearing with his wife Glenda, said in a written statement that it was the birthday party of his daughter's best friend, who had moved to a different school.

He said the invitation asked for children to be dropped off at 10.45am, they would swim, have lunch, play outside and be ready for collection around 1.30pm.

Mr Kantengule said he spoke to Jane Rainer, the mother of his daughter's best friend, as he arrived and decided not to wait at the pool during the party as it was mostly girls and mothers, and his wife was at work.

As he was driving home he had several missed calls on his phone, and returned there with his wife after receiving a message that there had been an accident.

Maya had already been taken to hospital and was pronounced dead as they were at her bedside.

"I was aware that Maya could swim but neither myself or my wife had ever seen her swim," he said.

He said he did not ask if there was a lifeguard, and Mrs Rainer did not mention anything.

"When Jane's daughter was at Dell Primary School, Jane used to volunteer to help with the swimming lessons, so we assumed Maya would be adequately supervised while in the pool," he said.

He added that Mrs Rainer's daughter was the only friend they would allow Maya to go and visit.

They would visit each other every few weeks and Maya had previously been on a boat trip with the girl, among other days out.

Maya, who was born in Middlesbrough, lived in Smith's Walk, Oulton Broad, near Lowestoft, Suffolk and attended Dell Primary School.

Jaqueline Bell, a teaching assistant at the school, said in a written statement that Maya started weekly swimming lessons in reception year, and spent around 10 to 15 minutes in the water each time. This was for a few months of the year while the pool was open.

"She was nervous in the water and would use armbands and a wobble," she said.

"There was always an adult with the children in the pool and they would encourage her to take her feet off the bottom.

"She could take her feet off the bottom with support but couldn't do it on her own.

"The last time Maya would have swum was July 2015."

Chris Coker, environmental health officer at South Norfolk Council, told the inquest that the indoor pool at Waveney River Centre could be privately hired.

He said it was L-shaped, 12m (40ft) long, 9m (30ft) at its widest and 1.5m (5ft) at its deepest.

He said signs were up stating there were no lifeguards on duty, that people swim at their own risk and should not do so if they are not a confident swimmer.

The inquest, expected to last two days, continues.

Mrs Rainer said she chose the Waveney River Centre after attending a previous birthday party there that was a "great success", and she knew based on this that there would not be a lifeguard there.

She said there were 10 adults and 10 children at the party, including her two daughters.

"All of the parents that were attending were watching through the windows in the observation areas while the party was taking place, apart from one mother who went outside with her son," she said.

Mrs Rainer said she went between the observation area and pool area to take photographs and film the birthday party.

No specific discussions were had about supervision, Mrs Rainer said, adding: "Had we known there was a non-swimmer in the group that would have been completely different."

She spoke to Maya's father as he dropped her off then helped her put her swimming hat and costume on as she "got into a tangle".

"We laughed about putting her hat on," she said. "I walked her along the corridor to the swimming pool, opened the door, called to my daughter that Maya was there.

"She was my daughter's best friend. She shrieked with excitement that Maya was there and they went off to play in the water together."

She said there were three inflatable balls in the pool, weighted toys for the children to fetch from the bottom of the pool, and one girl who was not confident at swimming had a rubber ring.

"I did plan to swim with the children," said Mrs Rainer. "I had had a cold for about five weeks prior to the party so I decided not to go in the water."

She said the invitation said parents were welcome to swim, but nobody did.

She said she went to give the children a 10-minute warning before their time in the pool was up and saw Maya through a large observation window.

"I saw Maya under the water and shouted something I don't recall, 'no' or 'help'," said Mrs Rainer.

She said she ran into the pool area, kicked off her shoes and jumped in fully clothed, as her eldest daughter also helped.

Mrs Rainer said she performed CPR on Maya at the poolside and emergency services were called.

She said Maya had been in the pool for around half an hour before this.

The inquest heard there was no requirement for a lifeguard in a pool of that size, provided signage and other appropriate warnings were in place.

Pool parties are no longer held at the venue.

The inquest resumes on Thursday.


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