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Eight kids in hospital after ‘life-threatening’ scuba diving oxygen tank mix-up

A pupil was found face down in a Manchester Grammar School swimming pool and was rushed to hospital along with seven other children due to carbon monoxide poisoning during a scuba diving class.

Two boys, aged 14 and 15, were pulled from the school's on site pool after becoming seriously ill and one was placed in an induced coma with his condition described as "life-threatening".

The boys were exposed to "high levels" of deadly fumes through the air tanks they were using during the lesson in June 2017, a court heard, reports the Manchester Evening News.

The company who supplied the equipment, Aqua Logistics Limited, have been fined £9,300, while its director, Geoffrey Shearn, avoided jail.

Prosecutor Mark Monaghan told Wigan & Leigh Magistrates Court that the incident happened while a group of 12 pupils were taking part in a week-long scuba diving course as part of the school's activities week.

The course was being run by an experienced diving instructor from an external company, YU Diving.

Each boy was given their own kit and an air cylinder, which had been supplied by Aqua Logistics, based in Chester Road, Stockport.

But shortly after entering the pool, a number of boys fell ill.

The court heard one boy was found "face down in the water" and had to be pulled out of the pool by the instructor. He was unconscious and an ambulance was called while the school nurse gave him oxygen.

In the meantime, another boy had to be helped from the pool after he became 'agitated' and stopped breathing.

A further six boys were taken to hospital and treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, including one who had to be put into the recovery position after he began "acting strangely" in the changing rooms.

In a victim impact statement, one boy said the last thing he recalled was being unable to breath or see.

Now aged 19, he revealed he has continued to suffer headaches since the incident.

When the air tanks the boys used were later tested, eight were found to contain "high levels of carbon monoxide".

Investigators from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) visited Aqua Logistics and also found high levels of carbon monoxide in a compressor which had been used to fill the tanks.

The court heard experts had concluded the machinery had become contaminated with carbon monoxide as a result of a fire in its filtration system.

A sensor designed to cut off the compressor in such an event was not working at the time, Mr Monaghan explained.

It meant the carbon monoxide was then transferred to the air tanks when they were filled.

Mr Monaghan told the court, Shearn had modified the compressor himself two years earlier in an attempt to combat moisture problems.

Shearn, of Frodsham, Cheshire, pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health & Safety at Work Act. Aqua Logistics Limited also pleaded guilty to a breach of the same act.

Mitigating on behalf of Shearn and the company, Andrew McGhee said the compressor in question had been used for two years without any problems.

He added: "Nobody really knows what caused the fire although it could not have been systemic within the compressor, or it would have happened over the two years, and it didn't.

"This was an extremely unique event brought about by a combination of factors as yet unexplained. It was not foreseeable and no risk was run, or recklessly run."

Mr McGhee said there was no evidence any "obvious industry standard" had been neglected by Aqua Logistics, which he described as a "hugely conscientious company".

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He added that Shearn had expressed "genuine and deep remorse" over what had happened.

Mr McGhee told the court Shearn and his company had supplied the diving industry for more than two decades without any issues.

He added: "He was absolutely shaken and taken aback by this and is upset it has happened. He is a man of good character and an upstanding professional in his field."

Passing sentence, District Judge Mark Hadfield described the incident as being of "the utmost seriousness" but he believed it was "very much an isolated incident from an unknown cause".

He fined Aqua Logistics Limited £9,300 and ordered them to pay £11,000 in costs.

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Meanwhile, Shearn was made the subject of a 12-month community order, requiring him to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work and he was also ordered to pay £5,085 in costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE specialist diving inspector Richard Martins said: “This case highlights the importance of ensuring that compressed breathing air sold to the public is safe.

"The quality of the air supplied is essential to the preservation of life. Suppliers of breathing air to the diving community and public should ensure that they use correctly installed and maintained equipment accompanied by regular testing of the air supplied.

"Further tragedy was narrowly averted through the quick response of the school staff, diving instructors, and the Manchester emergency services.”

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