No charges for Kiwi over birthday party tragedy

By Ian Evans

Top waterskier free but club and director facing charges over death of young girl.

Mari-Simon Cronje, aged 11, was fatally struck by the speedboat after she was thrown from an inflatable banana tube. Photo / Supplied
Mari-Simon Cronje, aged 11, was fatally struck by the speedboat after she was thrown from an inflatable banana tube. Photo / Supplied

A New Zealander who was driving a motorboat which hit and killed an 11-year-old girl at a London water park will not face charges, British police have decided.

Top waterskier Matt Gibson, 24, failed to see little Mari-Simon Cronje who had fallen off the back of an inflatable banana being towed by the craft at a birthday party in September 2010.

As bystanders waved their arms to alert him, Mr Gibson took a sharp turn and collided with the youngster causing fatal leg and perineal injuries which medics believe caused immediate and massive haemorrhage and shock.

The New Zealander was arrested by police on suspicion of manslaughter and bailed which has now been lifted. A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: "A man in his 20s who was arrested at the scene and later bailed will not face any further action. He has been released from bail."

Princes Club Water Sports Park near Heathrow Airport, has been charged with corporate manslaughter and one offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Club director Glen Walker will also face an individual charge under the act when the case comes to court on February 19.

Elizabeth Joslin, specialist prosecutor in the Special Crime Division at the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "I have carefully reviewed all of the evidence gathered by the Metropolitan Police and the Hounslow Environmental Health Department during their investigation into the tragic death of Mari-Simon Cronje.

"Mari-Simon died aged 11 during a birthday celebration at the Princes Sporting Club in Bedfont, Middlesex, on 11 September 2010. She died after falling from a banana boat ride and being hit by the boat that had been towing it.

"I have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to charge the Prince's Sporting Club Ltd with both corporate manslaughter and an offence under section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Section 3 requires all employers to conduct their business in a way that ensures, so far as is reasonably practicable, that others are not exposed to risk.

"Additionally, I have concluded that Glen Walker, a director of the Prince's Sporting Club Ltd, should also be charged under section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

"This decision was taken in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors. The company and Glen Walker will appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court on 19 February 2013. I extend my sympathies to the family of Mari-Simon Cronje."

The schoolgirl was attending a friends' joint birthday at the water park during which children were towed on the inflatable banana behind the motorboat driven by Mr Gibson from Tauranga. A parent dived into the water to drag the South African girl to shore.

An ambulance arrived within five minutes of the first emergency call but staff were unaware of the accident and routes were blocked by parked cars forcing crews to run 550m to the scene carrying their equipment.

However a report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch says it was unlikely Mari-Simon would have survived had they reached the site any earlier. She died shortly after reaching hospital.

Her death devastated parents Ancia and Andre - who is chief operating officer at UBS investment bank in London - and brother Andre-Pierre. Mr Cronje moved with the bank to the UK in 2001.

The report did highlight a series of safety flaws which contributed to the fatal accident including a failure to employ a monitor on the boat; no propeller guard; lack of emergency plan and communications at the club and the fact Mari-Simon's helmet was grey and not brightly coloured, making it difficult to see in the water.

Following the accident and MAIB report, the club implemented a series of health and safety measures and stopped inflatable rides.

Mr Gibson, who studied at Waikato University, competed at the World University Water Skiing Championships in China in 2008.

- NZ Herald

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