Negligence = Manslaughter?

This is one of the most horrifying cases imaginable, and it’s pretty clear that the pool owner bears some legal responsibility for the drowning death of a young boy.  But a charge of manslaughter – a conviction for which would require proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the property owner killed the victim and specifically intended to harm him -beggars belief:

…in what is believed to be a nationwide first, Philip John Cameron, 61, has been charged with manslaughter because he did not adequately fence his pool.

Mr Cameron was inside his Armidale home watching television one afternoon this year when the boy wandered through his backyard and fell in the pool.

Mr Cameron’s unkempt pool, described by one neighbour as ”a bit of a cesspit”, had a fence around it that was dilapidated.

After a two-month investigation, police charged Mr Cameron with manslaughter on Tuesday evening and ordered him to appear in an Armidale court next month. He is believed to be the first pool owner to be charged with manslaughter for not having a proper fence.

Katherine Plint, a campaigner on child drowning prevention, said it was a ”massive decision”. ”It sets a legal precedent which is what we want. Councils need to enforce laws and those owners refusing to fix their pools need to be prosecuted,” said Ms Plint, founder of the advocacy group Hannah’s Foundation.

[…]

The toddler, his parents’ only child, was playing with his mother in their front yard about 4pm on May 14 when he wandered off.

Ms Plint, who has been involved in the investigation, said the mother looked away for ”a matter of seconds” to talk to a neighbour.

She frantically searched for the boy but a neighbour found him in Mr Cameron’s pool.

Pool owners are required by law to erect and maintain adequate fencing.

Neighbours had apparently complained about Mr Cameron’s fence. However, the general manager of Armidale Dumaresq Council, Shane Burns, said a formal complaint was never received so the council was never obliged to check the fence. They were only required to when the pool was built.

(Via Adrian MacNair)

When I first heard about this case I wondered if a charge of criminal negligence causing death would be appropriate, but even that would be a stretch.  The pool owner failed to maintain adequate fencing around his pool, but unless he pushed the boy in, I don’t see how any court would find proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

In a civil proceeding, where the burden of proof is much lower, I have no doubt that the pool owner would be found at least partially liable.  But sometimes a horrible accident – even one that could have been prevented – is not a crime, no matter how much a prosecutor may try to prove otherwise.

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3 thoughts on “Negligence = Manslaughter?

  1. A charge of manslaughter does not require intent to harm. You need to prove that there was a duty of care not carried out which resulted in death. This case is clear cut. The pool owner disobeyed a law ie his pool must be fenced. His duty of care was to ensure members of the community are safe from his pool. He failed. He is liable.

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