Coroner in drowning case heaps responsibility where it should lie – with a toddler’s parents

But shouldn't there be a fence along here?

Here’s a big cheer for the coroner who has called for greater responsibility from parents in supervising their sprogs around water hazards.

He put the spotlight smack bang on parental responsibility at the inquest of a Gisborne toddler who drowned in a river a few months ago.

At that time the tossers at the Dom-Post devoted half a front page to the wailing of the toddler’s uncle, who insisted the council should have fenced the river.

And how far – pray? – should the fence have been run?

But (as the same newspaper is now reporting) the coroner sees things very differently.

You can find out what he said here.

A coroner has called for greater responsibility from parents to supervise their children around water hazards at the inquest of a Gisborne toddler who was found face-down in a river.

But let’s back up a bit to November 3 last year, when two-year-old Sukhraj Singh and his three-year-old cousin, Achilles Memphis Rein Kaui, were found floating face-down in the Taruheru River, near Atkinson Park Reserve in Gisborne.

Achilles was revived and flown to Starship Hospital. Sukhraj was not.

According to the Stuff report today, Sukhraj’s mother Jamie Taewa and her two children were at Taewa’s Atkinson St home.

In her evidence, Taewa said she was breastfeeding her baby Israel at the time and Kaui and McIntyre were in the lounge with the rest of the children.

“Then my son Sukhraj, Achilles and Sapphire went out to play.

“I could hear them from my room. A few minutes later it went quiet. I couldn’t hear the kids playing”.

She said she put her baby down and went into the lounge to see Kaui holding his baby, but the others weren’t there.

She searched through her section and looked over into the neighbour’s section and noticed the wire gate on the right side of her house was opened.

She looked further up the street but still could not find the children.

Neighbours helped with the search and the two boys were spotted floating face-down in the middle of the river.

Yep. It’s sad.

But relatives at the time of the drowning kicked up a hullabaloo about the council’s responsibilities.

On November 5, the Stuff was reporting these accusations like this –

A family hit by a drowning tragedy had repeatedly pleaded with the council to build a fence where a toddler died.

This was given some elaboration.

“I’ve been asking myself all night, would this have happened if the fence was put up in our neighbourhood? And the answer is no. Because those toddlers would not have been able to get past the fence”, Sukhraj’s uncle Hemi Jahnke said.

That report, too, mentioned Achilles’ mother, Diana McIntyre, visiting Sukhraj’s mother, Jamie Taewa, at her home in Atkinson St.

But here’s the crunch bit –

It was thought about 10 to 15 minutes passed before the women noticed the two toddlers had wandered off.

It also mentioned members of the family being part of a community group, Kia Kaha Mangapapa.

This is a charitable trust which was started to try to make a positive difference in the area.

The idea of a fence at the reserve was brought up at several hui called with Gisborne District Council last year. Achilles’ parents, Ms McIntyre and Frank Kaui, attended one of the meetings.

Mr Jahnke said the council had agreed to put up the fence.

“They did have a plan for the fence but because the fence was going to cost too much it started getting smaller and smaller. Eventually it turned into just a fence around the culvert.”

He was angry with the council.

“How many lives have been lost in river accidents because the council says they haven’t got enough money?

And how much bloody fencing is needed up and down every river in the country to protect kids whose parents falter in their supervision?

Gisborne District Council acting chief executive Nedine Thatcher-Swann said at that time –

“Around the country and the world it is very unusual to find our natural environments – rivers, lakes or ponds – fenced.”

Damned right.

And then there’s the question of money and where it should come from.

We did get some common sense at the time from Water Safety New Zealand, which said fencing waterways around the country was not the answer to reducing the risk of drowning.

WNZ Chief executive Matt Claridge told TV ONE’s Breakfast once children are mobile supervision is key to preventing accidents.

“Unfortunately the two kids who ended up in the river in Gisborne on Thursday, they’re classic, they’re mobile having a look around being adventurous.”

Claridge said fencing off beaches, lakes and rivers was not realistic.

“If we start saying fence off waterways, the lakes and beaches that’s not the answer cause we’re Kiwis we need access to those environments. But its mums and dads being responsible around the home.”

“Most of the drowning data tells us it is not an issue on a large scale and the cases where kids do get out and head to a body of water are incredibly rare and it would be pretty difficult to fence off 17,000 worth of coastline and add in all the rivers and lakes too.”

In his findings as reported at Stuff today, Coroner Chris Devonport agrees.

He says the Gisborne District Council has “unreasonably” been criticised for the riverbank not being fenced properly.

“What I consider more reasonable is that adults with young children in their care in the vicinity of such potentially dangerous hazards ensure that they are supervised to prevent them gaining access to such water hazards…,” Devonport said.

That puts matters squarely in perspective.

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