Crèche drowning ‘closure’

2009-06-11 00:00

ALTHOUGH no sentence can restore the life of little Luthando Mkhize, who drowned while in the care of crèche owner Lalitha Harry (44) last year, her admission of guilt and suspended jail sentence brings closure and will help to deter other offenders.

This was said by the toddler’s father, Mondli Michael Mkhize, in a written statement handed to regional magistrate S. Mngomezulu, who confirmed a plea bargain agreement reached in the case yesterday.

In terms of the agreement, Harry was sentenced to five years’ impri­sonment, wholly suspended for five years on condition that she is not convicted of a similar offence during that period.

Harry appeared subdued but composed as her attorney, Siva Chetty, read the contents of the plea agreement, which states that she admits she was negligent and acknowledges the “outrage and concern of the community” that a child in her care had died because the pool area was not fenced off or covered with a net. However, the circumstances could best be described as “a tragic accident”.

The court was told the swimming pool, which had been constructed by Harry’s husband, Julian, was due to be fenced the day Luthando drowned, February 4 last year, but the contractor did not turn up. It has since been fenced and covered with a net.

Harry is still undergoing counselling and has still not come to terms with the child’s death.

Luthando’s father said he accepts Harry’s plea as “sincere and genuine”.

“It is what I had been looking for ever since my son’s death. I believe my son’s death has been accounted for and this will bring closure to an unfortunate, tragic death of an innocent child, which could have been prevented.”

Mkhize said he was also satisfied with the sentence as Harry did not plan what happened.

“No sentence will be able to bring back my son’s life. However, I believe

t would deter other would-be offenders and no (other) innocent child will lose his life at the hands of the people trusted to take special care of the child,” he said.

According to the facts presented in court, Harry has operated the Stepping Stones crèche at her home in Brixham Road, Orient Heights, for about three years and never has more than nine children at the crèche.

She is assisted by a full-time employee and a domestic maid.

The day of the tragedy marked the intake of new children, some of whom were “agitated, stressed”.

At 11 am, Harry and her helper took the children to a play area for 20 minutes. On their return to the crèche, Harry did a head count and noticed one child was missing. She ran outside to look for him and found him lying in the shallow end of the pool.

“The accused dived into the pool and removed the child who was still breathing. The accused immediately attempted resuscitating the child.”

Harry’s husband rushed Luthando to Daymed hospital where he was declared dead.

The court was told that members of the Copesville Revival Centre, with Harry and her family, had prayed with the Mkhize family after the tragedy.

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