WARNING: Distressing content
Tragic details surrounding the drowning death of a toddler in backyard pool in the Northern Territory have been revealed when findings of an inquest into her death were handed down.
The two-year-old girl, known only as Baby Croker, was swimming with several other children in a backyard pool in Katherine in April 2022 when she drowned.
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Several adults, including the toddler’s mother, were at the home at the time, but none were “actively supervising” the children, Judge Elisabeth Armitage said in handing down the inquest findings on Friday.
The inquest found there were also several faults identified with the pool fence, including that it was kept propped open, so the children had easy access to the pool area.
“We failed Baby Croker,” Armitage said.
“Sadly the necessary measures to keep her safe were not in place the day she drowned.”
Baby Croker was a middle child and was one of three siblings.
“She was healthy, happy, outgoing and curious,” the judge said.
“Fish and watermelon were her favourite foods. She was the chatterbox of the family and always made everyone laugh.
“Because Peppa Pig was a favourite TV show, she cheekily referred to her parents as Mummy and Daddy Pig.”
On the day of the drowning, Baby Croker arrived at the Katherine home about midday for an event with her mum and sister.
The gathering was a pre-season football team get together in the carport of a suburban home, which was located adjacent to the property’s pool area.
About 13 adults and 11 children were at the event. Credit: NT Coroners Court
About 13 adults and 11 children were present at the event.
For ease of movement, a gas bottle was used to keep the pool gate propped open.
There was very little alcohol at the event and most of the adults were not drinking.
“Although the adults could see into the pool area, there were no adults physically in the pool with the children or on the pool side of the fence,” Armitage said.
“The adults remained in the carport, watching the pool through the fence, socialising, preparing the food and barbecue, and watching the football.”
After eating in the afternoon, the group of children returned to the pool.
At one point, Baby Croker’s mother said that while she was talking to a teammate, she saw her daughter sitting on the edge of the pool at the shallow end.
“Although she felt she ‘didn’t take her eyes off the pool’, she may have lost concentration and ‘just gone a bit blank’ while talking to her friend,” Armitage said, referring to comments made by Baby Croker’s mum in an interview.
The pool area was adjacent to the carport where the adults were socialising. Credit: NT Coroners Court
A while later, a nine-year-old who was swimming in the pool saw Baby Croker underwater in the deep end.
Another child screamed: “she’s drowned”.
“An 11-year-old boy lifted Baby Croker out of the water. She was limp in his arms and unresponsive,” Judge Armitage said.
Several adults rushed to the pool area and emergency services were called.
Two of the adults, one of whom was an Aboriginal health practitioner and a student nurse, performed CPR.
Paramedics arrived within minutes and continued CPR for 45 minutes but to no avail.
Baby Croker was pronounced dead at Katherine Hospital.
Her cause of death was ruled a drowning.
Following Baby Croker’s death, an investigation identified several faults with the pool fence and gates.
“Although not instrumental, the faulty fencing was a preventable risk which forms part of the relevant circumstances connected with the death,” Armitage said.
Judge Armitage also noted there were no adults inside the fenced pool area while the children were in the pool and none were “actively supervising” the children.
“In those circumstances the risks to Baby Croker and the other children were not appropriately identified or mitigated by any of the adults present and I determined that a public inquest was warranted.
Some of the adults who were at the event gave evidence to the inquest, telling the court they firmly believed that it was the mother’s responsibility to supervise her children.
The Katherine property where Baby Croker died. Credit: NT Coroners Court
“That is no doubt true,” Armitage said.
“However, I do not consider that precludes other adults having joint or shared responsibility for the children in the pool.
“Common decency points to all the adults, and perhaps particularly the host who invited the children to use the pool, sharing joint responsibility for ensuring all the children were safe and properly supervised.
“It is a tragedy that although there were many adults at the function, none were actively supervising … that is, none were: inside the pool fence, or within arms-reach, of any of the children.”
Armitage said changes needed to be made in several areas, including wider education of water safety for parents, to prevent further pool deaths.
She recommended the territory’s government strengthen its pool safety act to incorporate best practice to appropriately mitigate risks arising from private pools.
It should consider “the adequacy of current penalties, the adequacy of the current pool fencing standards, the removal of exemptions, and the implementation of a scheme for regular pool fence inspections”.
The territory should also investigate non-fatal drownings to identify and mitigate risks and prevent future deaths, she said.
“Baby Croker, and all our children, deserve better,” Armitage said.
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