Breaking news: Bawsey Pits drowning - care home did not make proper checks

Bawsey Pits, where Umar Balogun drowned while on a day out from his care home in Cambridgeshire.
Bawsey Pits, where Umar Balogun drowned while on a day out from his care home in Cambridgeshire.

The manager of a care home responsible for a teenager who drowned at Bawsey Pits said the trip to the beauty spot would never of happened if she had read his swimming risk assessment or made the necessary checks , an inquest heard today.

Umar Balogun’s assessment said swimming put him at a “high” degree of risk, and stated that he should only swim where there were lifeguards present. It also said care home staff should accompany him whenever he went into water.

But at an inquest into the 16-year-old’s death, a jury heard on Monday that Umar entered the unsupervised lake at Bawsey Pits, close to “no swimming” warning signs, while two members of staff from his Cambridgeshire care home, Castle Lodge, sat on the shore.

He entered the water with fellow care home resident Jamie Whiteman – who was also classed as “high risk” from swimming – and they swam out about 15ft from the shoreline for 20 to 25 minutes before the tragedy happened.

Umar was one of two people who drowned at the West Norfolk spot on July 16, 2013. An inquest into the death of the other victim, Lynn man Ryan Pettengell, held last February, heard he died when he went into the lake to try and help police search for missing Umar.

Following the deaths, a major investigation was launched by Norfolk police into the two care home staff, Vanda Cawley and Kevin Roweth, care home manager Lyana Sinclair-Russell, and also the care home company, Castlecare Ltd, but no charges were brought.

Ms Cawley, who had not yet passed her six-month probation period at the time of the incident, later resigned and Mr Roweth and Ms Sinclair-Russell were dismissed.

At the hearing at Norfolk Coroner’s Court in Norwich today, the jury heard there were swimming risk assessments in place for both Umar and Jamie. Both were classed as “high risk” and should only swim where lifeguards were present.

Ms Sinclair-Russell, who became manager of Castle Lodge three weeks before the tragedy, had read Jamie’s assessment, but not Umar’s.

Giving evidence, Ms Sinclair-Russell said that on July 16 Mr Roweth had asked whether he could take the two boys to an activity centre, where they could go “cycling, walking, swimming and climbing”.

She arranged for Ms Cawley to join them on the trip, but did not check where they were going.

She said: “It was my understanding that the boys were going to go swimming. I didn’t think to see if there was any risk assessments in place for that particular activity before they went.”

She accepted that she did not check to see if lifeguards would be present, or if the two members of staff would be accompanying them into the water.

“I was a bit naive. I thought it would be an acceptable place to go. It didn’t cross my mind to ask if it would have lifeguards,” she said. “Had I known it was not an appropriate setting it would definitely not gone ahead.”

Bilal Rawat, acting as counsel for Ofsted, which inspected the care home shortly before the incident, asked Ms Sinclair-Russell: “Had you have checked the risk assessments, would the trip have taken place?” and she replied “no”.

Ms Sinclair-Russell, who left the hearing in tears, said after the Ofsted inspection, the inspector told staff verbally that the home was “outstanding”.