Council failure to ensure secure fencing led to death of toddler

The Gore District Council failed to ensure fencing around its Gore oxidation ponds was effective enough to prevent children from accessing the area.

The summary of facts released to media states failure to provide such fencing led to the death of 3-year-old Lachlan Jones who on January 29, 2019 entered the ponds and drowned.

The council pleaded guilty in the Gore District Court on January 18 to a charge of failing to ensure the oxidation ponds were without risk to the health and safety of any person including Lachlan.

WorkSafe, which brought the prosecution to court, states that at the time of Lachlan’s death, stock-proof fencing was in place on three sides of the perimeter of the ponds located in Grasslands Rd.

‘‘On the river side of the ponds’ site there was no fence between the two ponds and the river bank.’’

At the time the council had an agreement with Ross Grant, the farmer of a neighbouring property, that he could graze sheep on the property.

Under the agreement, Mr Grant was responsible for the upkeep of the fencing around the site, the summary states.

On January 29, Lachlan, who was living with his family in Salford St, ran away from home.

After his mother Michelle Officer realised he was missing, she and her neighbour began to look for him with the search expanding to include other neighbours.

One of the neighbours walked around the northern oxidation pond without seeing Lachlan.

Lachlan had last been seen by a witness between 9pm and 9.30pm in Grasslands Rd.

At 9.35pm, Ms Officer called police to say Lachlan was missing.

Police then initiated a land search and rescue operation, including the dog squad.

About 11.20pm, Lachlan was found in the southern oxidation pond. He could not be revived.

The summary states the district council had recognised the risks at the site including drowning, engulfment and potential pathogens with signs notifying of those dangers.

While most of the site was fenced with 5m wire fencing with a hot wire live electric or barbed wire at the top, there was a section of fencing which consisted of wooden slat fencing.

From a health and safety perspective climb-proof fencing was desirable, the summary states.

While the Grasslands Rd site was locked at the main gate, there had been sightings of members of the public at the pond sites by Mr Grant and 3 Waters staff and staff from the dog pound, which is also situated at the site.

‘‘The sightings were predominantly along the river bank and there were no sightings of people close to the ponds,’’ the summary states.

During the WorkSafe investigation, it sought expert opinion from Dr Kathleen Callaghan, an expert in human factors.

In her opinion the oxidation pond area contained things that were addictive to children — ducks, lambs, sheep and dogs.

‘‘I do not think it was foreseeable that a child as young as 3 years of age might enter alone, but a younger child may well enter accompanied by an older child/group of children,’’ the summary states.

Children lacked experience, knowledge and cognitive ability for sound decisions including decisions about safety.

The summary states the council should have designed, installed and maintained fencing at the ponds to prevent children from accessing the ponds and to deter members of the public from entering. The council will be sentenced on March 6.