SA girl’s speedboat death in UK court

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IOL news oct 5 gavel_sep 4 Independent Newspapers .

London - The director of a London water sports centre appeared in court on Tuesday charged in connection with the death of an 11-year-old South African girl who was killed by a speedboat.

Mari-Simon Cronje was at a friend’s party and was being towed on an inflatable banana when she fell off and was hit by the boat in September 2010.

Despite being dragged from the water by onlookers and taken to hospital, she later died from severe leg and perineal injuries which doctors believe caused immediate and massive haemorrhaging and shock.

Her parents, Andre and Ancia, and brother Andre-Pierre, were not at the Westminster Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday to see Frederick Glen Walker, 49, director of the Prince’s Sporting Club in west London, appear in the dock.

His solicitor had asked Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle if he could sit on the public benches, but the request was turned down. He told Walker: “It is a simple rule that everybody goes in the dock. As soon as you start making rules for different people it becomes unfair for others.”

Wearing a dark suit, pale shirt and blue tie, Walker spoke only to confirm his name, date of birth and address during the short 10-minute hearing.

He was not required to enter a plea and was released on unconditional bail to appear in the Southwark Crown Court in April. He faces one offence under Britain’s Health and Safety at Work Act while the club faces a separate health and safety charge plus one of corporate manslaughter.

If found guilty, Walker could face a maximum two-year jail term and/or an unlimited fine while the company could face a £100 000 (R13.6m) fine for the health and safety breach and a maximum £500 000 fine for the manslaughter offence if found guilty.

Mari-Simon attended the private R55 000-a-term Ibstock Place School in Roehampton, London, close to the family’s R14m home in Putney. Cronje, who is chief operating officer at UBS investment bank, moved to the UK from South Africa in 2001 after starting his career in Joburg.

He had previously criticised the pace of the investigation in the wake of his daughter’s death, saying the authorities had acted too slowly. Earlier this month it was revealed that the driver of the speedboat on the day of the accident, New Zealander Matt Gibson, would not face any charges even though he failed to see Mari-Simon in the water.

He was arrested by the police after the collision on suspicion of manslaughter, but the case was dropped and he was released from bail.

At the end of Tuesday’s hearing Riddle said: “This is a very tragic case, very tragic for everyone involved.”

A report after the accident by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch said it was unlikely Mari-Simon would have survived had paramedics arrived any sooner. However, its study did highlight a series of safety flaws which it believed contributed to the fatal accident, including a failure to employ a monitor on the speedboat, and the absence of a propeller guard.

Independent Foreign Service

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