‘Chaos’ at Wakefield gym after man drowned

Total Fitness, Dewsbury Road, Wakefield
Total Fitness, Dewsbury Road, Wakefield

GYM members were allowed to swim in a pool just an hour after a man had drowned, an inquest was told.

George Oglethorpe, 45, of Sunnydale Park, Ossett, drowned in a pool at Total Fitness on July 21, 2010.

Mr Oglethorpe, who played rugby for Wakefield Trinity in 1984, had suffered a heart attack in the pool at the Dewsbury Road gym.

The hearing was told that it was about five minutes before anyone had come to help Mr Oglethorpe.

Det Sgt Julia Cooper arrived at the scene an hour after the incident, at which point Mr Oglethorpe had still not been identified.

She told the hearing: “In all my years of service I have never seen a scene so chaotic. Members were still swimming in the pool and the gym was just business as usual.

“Management seemed to be very lax and have no control over staff.”

The hearing was also told a cleaner without lifeguard training had been asked to watch the three swimming pools while an attendant on duty took a five-minute break to get changed, which was in line with the gym’s policy at the time.

Fitness instructor Julian Muca and club member Christopher Hawes rushed to Mr Oglethorpe’s aid before pool staff had even realised there was an emergency.

Mr Hawes said: “A man [Mr Muca] ran to the pool shouting ‘where’s the lifeguard?’ I ran over to help. I saw staff slowly make their way over but nobody appeared to be in a rush. I was angry, staff seemed to be very lethargic.”

The inquest heard Mr Muca was told of Mr Oglethorpe’s distress by a gym member.

Self-employed Mr Muca, who had run classes at the gym for about five months, defended the staff response saying it was hard to tell Mr Oglethorpe was in trouble.

He added: “When I called for help the lifeguards came within seconds.”

Staff used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and a defibrilator machine to try and save Mr Oglethorpe while paramedics were called.

But he was pronounced dead at Pinderfields Hospital. A postmortem gave the cause of death as drowning, with the heart attack as contributory factor.

In a statement read out to the inquest, Mr Oglethorpe’s wife Sarah Louise said he was a fit and experienced swimmer. She added: “He was an even-tempered, hard-working man who was a tower of strength and support to his son George.”

Group health and safety manager Neil Fell said the company had planned improvements to its safety procedures before the incident.

Recording a narrative verdict, coroner David Hinchliff said it would be “reassuring” if safety procedures could be improved but said there was “no direct evidence” to prove Mr Oglethorpe could have survived had faster action been taken.