The mother and stepfather of a five-year-old boy who drowned in a water park ‘left him unsupervised for more than two hours’ before his death and ‘thought he was too scared to go near water’, a court heard today.
Charlie Dunn, who could not swim, was found submerged in the 4.5ft-deep Blue Lagoon lake at Bosworth Water Park near Hinckley, Leicestershire, in July 2016.
His body was found by three children who felt his hair in the water while looking for a pair of swimming goggles.
The prosecution said his mother and stepfather Lynsey Dunn, 28, and Paul Smith, 36, let him ‘go off by himself’ to play in a pool at the park without armbands.
Smith was later allegedly seen smoking and heard saying: ‘For f***’s sake, we’re ready to go. I don’t know where he f****** is.’
Charlie Dunn, five, right, was found dead in a water park after parents Lynsey Dunn, left outside court today, and Paul Smith ‘left him unsupervised for two hours’, a court heard
Dunn and stepfather Smith, pictured with Charlie, also knew he ‘did not like water’ and ‘were aware of the risks’ of the park, the prosecution said
At one point the case was forced to temporarily adjourn as Dunn, dressed in a black shirt and blue hair bows, broke down in tears and had to be comforted by Smith.
The pair, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, are charged with manslaughter by gross negligence and child cruelty and prosecutors at Leicester Crown Court alleged they allowed Charlie to enter the park ‘unsupervised’ with the ‘breach of duty of care causing or significantly contributing to his death’.
Witnesses claimed he was constantly away from his parents ‘except for the odd minute’.
Others claimed Charlie was running around ‘like a Duracell rabbit’, diving in-and-out and was encouraging fellow youngsters to jump in too.
Jurors were told the open air pool had signs indicating that children must be supervised, and was not required to have lifeguards because of its depth.
Smith and Dunn both deny causing the youngster’s death by gross negligence by permitting him to enter a bathing area unsupervised.
The jury heard Charlie could not swim
Prosecutor Mary Prior QC alleged that Charlie was supervised near the water by strangers – including a man who was mistaken for his father – after being left alone.
The QC told the jury: ‘Charlie Dunn drowned in the pool for children at the park known as the Blue Lagoon.
‘No-one knows how it happened, no-one knows why it happened, and at the time he died neither Miss Dunn or Mr Smith had any idea where he was.
‘Charlie had been permitted to go off by himself. The prosecution say that Charlie died because he was not supervised by any adult.
‘He was left alone in a busy park at five years old in circumstances where there was a clear and obvious risk that he might come to very serious harm leading to his death.
‘It will be for you to decide in this case whether that is right.’
After acknowledging that the death of Charlie must have caused the defendants unimaginable pain, Mrs Prior said of the pair: ‘Neither of them at any stage said ‘It’s my fault – this is all down to me’.
‘Neither of them say ‘Do you know, on reflection I should never have let my boy go off and play by himself’.’
The prosecution said the pair, pictured outside court at previous hearings, showed ‘ingrained and entrenched indifference’ towards Charlie
Pictured: The Blue Lagoon lake where Charlie was found by boys looking for swimming goggles
Claiming the defendants had shown ‘ingrained and entrenched indifference’ at the time of the tragedy, Mrs Prior added: ‘This case is not about parents turning their back for a minute whilst a tragedy occurs.
‘We don’t prosecute parents for unavoidable tragedies nor do we expect perfection in parenting.
‘HE WAS MORE INTERESTED IN THE SKIP’: STEPFATHER ACCUSED OF LEAVING CHILDREN UNATTENDED BEFORE
Jurors heard how Charlie previously nearly drove his ‘Cosy Coupe’ toy car onto a busy main road when his mother left him unattended by their house.
Becky Smith, a neighbour of the couple, told how she had to chase Charlie up a grass verge and down a steep hill, stopping him ‘metres’ before he reached onrushing cars.
Speaking from behind a curtain, Ms Smith, who lived next door to the couple from 2013, said: ‘Charlie was at the bottom of the street.
‘I first saw him by the grass mound in the car.
‘I felt scared because I knew what was at the other side of the hill. I did not want him to go over on to the over side. I think it’s a 40mph road.
‘I dropped everything that I had in my hands. I ran up the hill to get him. He’d hit the top of the hill when I fell over.
‘I managed to get back up and got to the top of the hill and put my arm in front of the Cosy Coupe and stopped it.
‘I shouted for his mum when I first saw him, but nobody came. I suffer from anxiety, and started to have a panic attack.
‘I knew that she [Lynsey] was in the house. I needed help. The baby [Charlie] was upset.
‘It was a couple of minutes [before Lynsey arrived]. Three or four minutes.
‘I told her what had happened and that I had called out to her. She just took Charlie with her. She didn’t say anything straightaway.
‘I went to her later to see how he was and she said ‘thank you, you saved his life’.’
Another witness, Samantha Byrne, said she saw the couple leave the child unattended as Smith was busy ‘rummaging around’ in a skip looking for discarded goods.
She said: ‘He was in the car park, rummaging through the skip that was out there.
‘The children were running up and down the road, quite close to the road.
‘They were just running up and down the pavement, messing around.
‘I was directly across the road and could see what they were doing.
‘I was upset, worried, and panicked for the children. There was no supervision for them and the road there is so busy.
‘One went to step out in the road, and a car braked. That was when I went out on to the road and confronted them [the defendants].
‘There was music which was playing very loudly, and the car doors were open..
‘I told them to have a bit of respect. I told them to get a grip of the children because I was concerned about their safety.
‘At this point they did not say anything back to me.
‘Lynsey Dunn got hold of the children. Paul Smith got into the car. He was angry, and wheel-spun out of the car park.
‘I reported the incident to the police.
‘He [Paul Smith] was not interested in keeping an eye on the children. He was more interested in what was in the skip.’
‘This is a gross failure to supervise not for seconds, and not for a few minutes, but for protracted periods of time in circumstances where the child was exposed to danger.’
Dunn told police she thought Charlie would have informed her if he was going into the water, which he was ‘terrified’ of.
Her partner told officers he had watched Charlie from a distance ‘and that if there had been a problem he could have leaped across and got him’.
Jurors heard the couple were given a ‘warning’ of what could happen in the summer of 2015, when a neighbour prevented the unsupervised toddler, then aged four, from driving a toy car on to a main road.
Another neighbour, the court heard, spotted Dunn inside a car – out of sight of her son – when the boy came ‘perilously close’ to straying on to a road in October 2015.
It was also alleged that Dunn and Smith were berated by a woman during a visit to the water park about two months before Charlie’s death.
The witness, the court heard, told the defendants ‘in no uncertain terms that she was not happy that the defendants were not supervising Charlie near to the water’.
Both defendants are said to have replied that Charlie ‘would be all right’.
The Crown allege the couple breached their duty of care to Charlie, causing or significantly contributing to his death by gross negligence.
Concluding her opening speech, Mrs Prior claimed the parents were unable to help with what happened to Charlie during the two-hour period ‘except for the odd minute’ when he returned to their car for something to eat or drink.
After the trial resumed following Dunn’s breakdown, jurors heard how witnesses Emma Hatton and her partner Gary Allden did not see Charlie with his parents for a 45 minute period.
Mrs Prior QC added: ‘He[Gary] saw Charlie once, and that was because Mr Smith was shouting at him. After the shouting, Charlie walked off towards the slide by himself.’
She added: ‘Rebecca Hancock saw a little boy matching Charlie’s description in the water at 1.30pm.
‘He walked to centre of lagoon so that the water was up to his chest.
‘She told him not to do that because of course she was aware that gets deep quite quickly towards the middle, and he did come back away from that area..
‘Lynsey Dunn claims that Charlie was frightened of water, terrified, and would not have done that.
‘She says that he only went in up to his ankles. She had told him not to go in beyond his private parts.
‘He was not being supervised because the only person who told him not to go too deeply was Miss Hancock. He was being supervised by a stranger.’
Jurors were then told how the young boys who discovered Charlie’s body thought it was just a child ‘messing around’.
Mrs Prior QC continued: ‘Those boys were playing in the water. And as they were playing in the water, they felt something under their feet.
‘They thought it was children messing around. But at one stage, one got a cut to his foot. They looked down, and realised that it was Charlie.
‘Of course, you will understand that many people tried to save Charlie that day.
‘There were off-duty paramedics and off-duty police officers and all of them did their absolute best.
‘The parents owed a duty of care, they breached that duty and as a result Charlie died.
‘That breach caused or significantly contributed to his death.
Smith, pictured with Dunn in a court sketch, was remanded in custody ahead of the trial, which began today
‘They cannot account for the period of two hours leading up to his death, other than the odd minute when he would return for a sandwich or a drink.’
Dunn, who was on bail, and Smith, who was remanded in custody, also deny ill-treating Charlie during the four years before his death and four other child cruelty offences – relating to three other children.
The offences, detailed at Leicester Crown Court, are alleged to have taken place between March 31, 2012 and July 22 last year.
The couple, of Tamworth, deny being grossly negligent.
Smith also denies a count of attempting to intimidate a witness.
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