The father whose 17-month-old daughter drowned in an inflatable pool on Christmas Day two years ago says he will forever judge himself for letting his "wee girl down".

In the High Court at Auckland today, James Mataafi was discharged without conviction on a manslaughter charge after festive celebrations turned to tragedy for his family in 2014.

Speaking about his daughter's death for the first time, a heartbroken Mataafi has told the Herald about how his daughter Imogen Mataafi drowned in a pool bought as an early Christmas present at their Manurewa home and couldn't be resuscitated.

Mataafi's brother John had bought the pool for his nephew, nieces and their cousins. Extended family members helped assemble it and fill it with water.


Mataafi believed the pool was "safe" and insisted it be supervised by adults at all times.

"We were being responsible - there was never an issue about that or any desire to be reckless," he said.

"I never thought Imogen or anyone her size would try to get in it unsupervised or could, given the sides of the pool."

It's unknown how Imogen got into the pool but a pram was found pushed against the side of the pool, which suggests she may have climbed or fallen in.

Court documents alleged Saleupolu had breached the Fencing of Swimming Pools Act. Mataafi was accused of "failing to take reasonable precautions" against her death.

In his affidavit, Mataafi stated he wasn't aware there were laws about fencing temporary pools. And even if they knew about the laws of fencing the pool, they couldn't afford to do so.

He was charged with manslaughter and pleaded guilty last week after a High Court judge said he would be discharged without conviction.

Today, Judge Peter Woodhouse did so.

His lawyer Ron Mansfield said outside court: "The public may see it as unconventional outcome but it's not- it is proper and compassionate."

Imogen's grandfather and Mataafi's father-in-law, Mosala Saleupolu, 63, was also charged with manslaughter but the charges were dismissed.

Mataafi, thanking his lawyer, said he was relieved with today's outcome - but the torment of losing his beautiful baby girl still haunts him.

"I hate the fact I let my wee girl down and wasn't there for her when she needed me. The thought of her last seconds haunts me.

"A father should be able to protect his children. I didn't and I will forever judge myself for that."

The father of five said he remembers that day "like it was yesterday".

He said the children were happy and excited with the hype of the Christmas festivities, opening presents and playing happily in the backyard.

Mataafi will never forget the last time he saw his little girl with the "beautiful smile".

"I was cleaning out the garage for Christmas lunch, she ran up to me and said 'hello' and gave me a big cuddle."

Fifteen minutes later she was dead.

"I felt my heart stop beating then and it feels as though it has not started since. It is hard to describe the hopelessness and guilt I feel," he said.

Imogen's grandfather found her lying face down in the pool a few metres from where he was cooking on the barbeque.

He pulled her out of the pool and Mataafi's wife's sister performed CPR until an ambulance arrived but Imogen died.

"It was heartbreaking. I was told I would be charged for Imogen's death.

"I was angry as we had been through enough - to lose my wee girl and still be facing a charge."

Tearfully, he said: "I miss her every day and struggle to cope. Why is life so spiteful and hard?"

Mataafi, his wife Sina and their children, Jamal, 15, Danii 13, Gizelle, 12, and Savannajh, 5, live with Sina's parents at their Manurewa home.

A former orderly and DJ , Mataafi became the prime caregiver after Sina was blinded in a motorcycle crash in Nuie a few years ago.

Mataafi feared for the well-being of his other children.

"They already have a blind mother. There are things they miss out on as a result of that already and now they have me struggling with the disabling arthritic grip of guilt and depression."

The couple also lost another child, Judy, who was stillborn.

Imogen is buried at the Manukau Memorial cemetery near Judy and Mataafi visits them every day.

"To lose a child is a terrible thing - I have lost two now. No parent should have to experience that but I take comfort my girls are together."

He had worried that a manslaughter conviction would make it difficult for him to find employment to support his family.

"No employer will want a man convicted for manslaughter, let alone for a child. I can't imagine trying to explain to an employer you are criminally responsible for your daughter's death to give you a chance."

Police said the decision to charge Mataafi was made after a lengthy investigation and legal opinion.

"Imogen's death was a tragedy and a significant loss for her family. We continue to offer our deepest sympathies."

Detective Senior Sergeant Ross Ellwood said people need to recognise that swimming pools and young children can be a dangerous mix, and this is no different for paddling pools.

"We urge anyone buying a paddling pool for their children to ensure they are adhering to swimming pool laws around pool fencing and safety.

"Please make sure your pool is safe and compliant and ensure that children are supervised around water at all times.

"Police want all members of our community to have a safe and enjoyable summer."