United Kingdom

School where pupil, nine, was killed when locker he was climbing on fell over is fined £28,000 

A school has been fined more than £28,000 after a nine-year-old boy was killed when a 6ft tall wooden locker fell on top of him.

Leo Latifi, was injured at Great Baddow High School in Chelmsford, Essex, on 23 May 2019, after falling from the lockers, becoming trapped underneath and hitting his head on a bench.

He was not a pupil there but had been attending after-school swimming lessons with his school, St Michael's Primary School, when the incident took place at around 6:30pm.  

CPR was administered by emergency services at the scene and Leo was transferred to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford by air ambulance, where he later died.  

A post-mortem examination into his death, carried out at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital, confirmed Leo died as a result of a severe head injury.

A jury inquest into Leo's death in October 2020 concluded that he died as a result of an accident, that was 'significantly contributed to' by a lack of 'appropriate assessment' into the risks.

Leo Latifi (pictured), was injured at Great Baddow High School in Chelmsford, Essex, on 23 May 2019, after falling from the lockers and becoming trapped underneath

The jury foreman, speaking on behalf of the 11 jurors, said: 'We agreed it was an accident.

'Leo Latifi's death was significantly contributed to by a lack of appropriate assessment to clear and obvious risks in relation to the locker unit not being secured to a solid wall. 

'Adequate precautions and training measures were not taken to address this measure.'

They added that the site manager had 'never checked' the fittings on the locker. 

Great Baddow High School faced a Health and Safety Executive prosecution hearing (HSE) at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court yesterday afternoon.

The court heard that Leo, from Galleywood, Chelmsford, was taking swimming lessons with an organisation that was renting the swimming pool while the school was closed.

Then, tragedy struck when he and a friend were climbing on the locker units that hadn't been attached to the wall.

His parents, Natalie, 32, and Eduart, 39, (pictured together with Leo) have described living through their 'worst nightmare' of losing their eldest son

The prosecution at the case hearing said it was an 'obvious' risk and, 'despite guidance, the school failed to ensure furniture was fixed.'

They added that it 'posed risk to students.' 

Behind the lockers, there were holes and rawl plugs where the lockers should have been screwed in, which suggests that they were attached to the wall at some point, the court heard.

However, at the time of the incident in 2019, they were not attached to the wall as no screws were found at the scene.

The court heard that a refurbishment project took place in 2013/2014, which saw the changing of carpets in the changing rooms.

During the process, the lockers were temporarily removed, which the school claims they were unaware of.

The company which carried out the work, a single flooring contractor, couldn't be tracked down to find out what happened with the removal and refitting of lockers.

The court heard: 'But it seems evident that when they were refitted they were not fixed back to the wall.'

Great Baddow High School in Chelmsford, Essex, has been fined more than £28,000 following the incident

Tributes to Leo Latifi outside Great Baddow High School after his death in May 2019

Additionally, the prosecution stated that out of the 15 lockers, five of them were missing doors. The prosecution stated that this was an 'invitation' to climb them.

Experts also carried out tests to identify the moment locker units began to fall, the court heard.

They said that 61kg to 71kg of weight would be required for the locker units to fall but dynamic forces like pulling away or jumping on could 'increase the moment being reached.'

The prosecution summarised that had lockers been fixed to the wall with materials the manufacturers provided and instructed, then the lockers 'could and will not come away from the wall'.

The school 'acknowledged their error' but pointed out that it had a previously 'exemplary' health and safety record, had no previous convictions and had 'put right' the issues within the case.

It said that it had 'sought to help the court as best we can'.

Police at Great Baddow High School in Chelmsford, Essex. The year-four pupil was at a swimming lesson when the tragic accident occurred

It added that when the new management took over from Essex County Council there was 'nothing that changed or made less effective than what was put in place by the local council'.

Judge John Wollard said that he was 'conscious in sentencing the school as 'any fine imposed will fall upon the children and effectively deprive children of their education'.

Judge Wollard said: 'I feel helpless in assessing the penalty in this case. 

'I recognise whatever penalty I impose will not improve the pain Leo's parents suffered all I can do is mark the fact his death came as a result of health and safety failure.

'It emphasises how important it is that those who run organisations have the safety of employees, workers and visitors in their care must follow the advice given by health and safety executives. And if they fail to conduct that, they do it at their own peril.'

As a result, Judge Wollard imposed a fine of £28,870, taking into account the mitigating factors of a guilty plea and a previously good health and safety record.

After Thursday's hearing, Leo's parents, Eddie and Natalie Latifi said: 'Nothing can bring back our son, Leo, and the amount of money the school has been fined is just a number to us.

'The school will carry on, and the people there will carry on with their lives in just the same way.

'But we can't carry on with our lives in the same way. Our lives changed forever on the day Leo died and they will never be the same again. We carry the loss of him with us every day and it's an unbearable pain.

'We can only hope that the fine the school has to pay will make schools safer for other children.'

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