Nursery boss pleads guilty to health and safety breach

BOSSES who ran a Cambourne nursery where a baby choked to death on a piece of apple have pleaded guilty to breaching Health and Safety laws. Ten-month-old Georgia Hollick died of asphyxia at hospital after being given a slice of apple as a snack at the Ju

BOSSES who ran a Cambourne nursery where a baby choked to death on a piece of apple have pleaded guilty to breaching Health and Safety laws.

Ten-month-old Georgia Hollick died of asphyxia at hospital after being given a slice of apple as a snack at the Just Learning nursery in Cambourne on April 19 2006.

South Cambridgeshire District Council brought the action against representatives of the company - co-founded by Tory MP Michael Fallon - following a prolonged investigation.

She breathed in the apple - just 8mm long - as she sat on the floor having a mid-morning snack and it lodged in her airway.

Despite desperate attempts to revive her by staff at the nursery and doctors at hospital she was pronounced dead an hour later.

A two-day inquest, held in November 2006, heard mum Sharon, 35, an accountant, had raised the issue of her daughter being fed on the floor of the nursery just days before.

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The inquest ruled that Georgia's death was a tragic accident.

The council accepted the alleged health and safety failings were not the cause of the Georgia's death, but claimed there was no proper system for the assessment of risks.

It also alleged staff training records - particularly those relating to first aid training - were inadequate and there was no satisfactory system of crisis management.

The council announced it would be bringing the prosecution against the company in June 2008.

On Wednesday, December 10 at Cambridge Crown Court Jonathan Bell, Operations Director of Just Learning Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Section 33 1a of the Health and Safety Act between September 29 2003 and April 20 2006.

The company had failed to discharge its duty to persons not in their employment, in this case babies and young children, who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health and safety.

Judge Gareth Hawkesworth ordered sentencing be adjourned until March 2009, following pre-sentence submissions from the defence on February 16.

He said he would need guidance on the sentencing brackets for such a unique case: ''This is obviously a grave case but it comes in a slightly unusual context.''

Just Learning runs 49 nurseries in England and Wales.

Georgia attended the nursery with her sister Jasmine, now five.

Devastated parents Sharon, 35, and Jason, 36, sat in the public gallery to hear Just Learning's guilty plea.

They declined to comment until after sentencing.

The Just Learning nursery in Cambourne where Georgia Hollick choked on the piece of apple closed down in February 2008.

After the court hearing on Wednesday, December 10 a company spokesperson said: '"The company has pleaded guilty. It would be inappropriate to comment further until the case is concluded in the New Year."

The maximum penalty in a crown court for breaching Section 33 1a of the Health and Safety Act 1974 is an unlimited fine.

The offence does not carry a prison sentence.

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