Toddler death probe delayed

The Dalmeny Hotel in St Annes where the toddler drowned
The Dalmeny Hotel in St Annes where the toddler drowned

A hearing into the death of a young girl who drowned in a St Annes swimming pool is unlikely to be heard until early 2016, a coroner has said.

Blackpool Coroners Court had intended to hear a final inquest into the death of Jane Bell - the Scottish three-year-old who drowned at The Dalmeny Hotel in August last year - by October this year.

I’m at pains to ensure this happens in a timely fashion.

But delays in securing statements and evidence by the hotel’s legal teams and the health and safety authority, as well as difficulties with the young girl’s parents’ health, means it has now been put back and isn’t expected to be heard until next year.

Senior coroner Alan Wilson had scheduled for a inquest to be heard in front of a jury from October 5 this year.

He said: “I’ve been at pains to ensure this inquest takes place in a timely fashion but I fear the October date it unrealistic.”

A police investigation was launched following the child’s death, on August 14, and a 40-year-old woman, also from Galashiels, was arrested on suspicion of murder and neglect.

But the Crown Prosecution Service later said no criminal charges would be brought and the case was referred to the coroner.

The inquest was opened in January and has been re-opened a further three times for reviews, including on Tuesday.

Dr Bob Smith, a GP for the Bell parents in Galashiels, wrote to the court to say his patients were “suffering marked bereavement reactions” and as such were “not well enough” to attend the pre-inquest review that day.

Now Mr Wilson has asked for a “detailed explanation” of their conditions in order for the court to make an “appropriate” decision on how to proceed.

He said: “There’s been an issue with Mrs Bell’s health from the outset.

“The information the court has been given about the parents’ medical condition, but particularly Mrs Bell, has been insufficient.

“We’re nigh on a year from the incident and I don’t think it is inappropriate to say the coroners office hasn’t had forthcoming responses.

“I’m going to request a detailed explanation as to their present medical conditions and what the prognosis is to either one or both of them to attend court.

“I’m aware we’re talking about a couple who have lost a child and I’m not prejudging the validity or otherwise of claims being made about their medical condition, but we need some evidence.

“There may be perfectly valid medical evidence that makes it abundantly clear that Mrs Bell can’t attend.”

A representative for Fylde Council told the hearing while he had had a witness statement submitted by Mr Bell, his wife had reportedly “refused” to speak to the authority.

The council advised it had also had some delays in obtaining statements from the directors of the Dalmeny Hotel.

Representatives for both the council and the hotel told the court they were seeking expert evidence for the hearing but since this had not yet been obtained Mr Wilson said he felt forced to further delay the final hearing.

Mr Wilson told the court that CCTV footage of the incident would be used in the inquest.

He added: “We’re assisted, to a considerable extent by the CCTV footage and it will form a significant part of the evidence.”

The inquest was formally adjourned, for another pre-inquest review hearing to be held on October 13 at 10am.