15 Dec 2016

No convictions after baby drowns in paddling pool

1:51 pm on 15 December 2016

A father has been discharged without conviction and a grandfather has had his manslaughter charge dropped, in relation to a baby drowning in an inflatable swimming pool on Christmas Day in 2014.

Coat of Arms inside the High Court in Rotorua

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

James Faletogia Mataafi and Mosala Saleupolu appeared in the High Court in Auckland today, charged with the manslaughter of 17-month-old Imogen Mataafi.

In sentencing the pair, Justice Peter Woodhouse said the atmosphere at the Manurewa house was happy, children were laughing and there was no sense of danger in the air as Christmas lunch was being prepared.

He said there were seven adults and a nephew over the age of 18 around that day, and it was assumed that someone was supervising the children swimming outside.

Justice Woodhouse said the dreadful tragedy unfolded as the 17-month-old's grandfather was cooking on the barbeque, his back turned, half a metre from the pool.

He said the last Mr Mataafi saw of his youngest daughter, was when she said 'hello' and gave him a kiss - a short while later, she was pulled from the pool by her grandfather, and CPR attempts were unsuccessful.

It was not known how the toddler got into the pool, but a push chair was found beside the pool, suggesting she might have climbed or fallen in.

"To convict you would be a harsh punishment. You are a victim of what happened, not a criminal," Justice Woodhouse said.

Sighs of relief and tears of gratitude came from the dock and the public gallery, before the pair walked out, hugging family.

Their lawyer Ron Mansfield said the outcome was a compassionate one, and the family were relieved it was all over.

The police said the decision to lay charges in this case was made after a lengthy investigation and legal advice.

Detective senior sergeant Ross Ellwood said they were urging anyone buying a paddling pool this summer to ensure they are adhering to the laws around pool fencing and safety.