Melanie Mitchell, mother of toddler who drowned at Carramar home day care, makes emotional plea for stricter regulations at inquest

Melanie Mitchell (centre) with husband Luke (right) and her father Dennis Hampton.
Melanie Mitchell (centre) with husband Luke (right) and her father Dennis Hampton.

THE mother of Lachlan Mitchell who drowned in a pool at a Carramar home day care centre, made an emotional appeal for stricter regulations as the inquest into her son’s death wrapped up today.

Speaking outside the Central Law Courts building, Melanie Mitchell (34) said “the biggest thing” she hoped to come out of the inquest was to keep kids safe in day care.

Lachlan was nearly three years old when he drowned after finding a way into a fenced pool enclosure on November 9, 2015.

The WA Coroner’s Court inquest gave no definitive answer as to how the tragedy happened, but Coroner Sarah Linton considered the most likely scenarios were that the gate door had not shut properly or that he climbed in using a pot plant near the fence.

Having listened to a day-and-a-half of testimony into her toddler’s death, Ms Mitchell was firm in her stance that pools at home day care centres should be banned, particularly because they involved “the most vulnerable age group between zero and five”.

Flanked by husband Luke and her father as she spoke to the media, she hoped the family’s willingness to speak on the issue would prompt change.

The parents now have a baby daughter, born in February.

“It was something we decided early on; we could grieve in private or we could do our best to ensure another family doesn’t have to go through what we went through,” she said.

“If we can save the life of one child, regardless of the inconvenience and the logistics (of tighter regulations), I think it’s worth it.”

She showed empathy for day care centre operator Karla Zablah, who was caring for Lachlan when he drowned.

Ms Zablah was distraught when giving testimony yesterday, admitting inspectors told her she should move pot plants away from the pool fence but she had not done so.

“She’s obviously devastated by what happened,” Ms Mitchell said.

“No one could go through what we’ve been through and what she experienced and not be affected.

“What she has to say now, we can’t hold that against her, it’s just her way of coping.”

Ms Mitchell gave testimony in court earlier in the day, and said she thought Ms Zablah’s suggestion she had left Lachlan alone for five to seven minutes, while tending to an infant, was incorrect.

She considered a time frame of 15 to 20 minutes would have been more likely if Lachlan had climbed into the enclosure.

Coroner Ms Linton told Ms Mitchell she would not be making a finding to suggest Ms Zablah was deliberately misleading the inquest and said witness time frames were often unreliable.

Ms Mitchell talked of her son’s developmental problems, and said he was not suited to mainstream day care, which led them to seek the more “one-on-one” setting of a home day care centre.

She said Lachlan “blossomed in confidence” under the care of Ms Zablah, particularly because he was with children younger than him.

“He’d become the leader, the helper… development-wise we couldn’t have picked a better person,” she said.

Forensic Associate Professor Clive Cooke, who was a chief officer at Pathwest when he examined Lachlan’s body, also gave evidence today.

He said there were minor scratches on Lachlan’s elbow, knee and shin, but they were not out of the ordinary for a toddler.

He said drowning in young children was “a very quick and very silent occurrence”.

He said unconsciousness would happen within about half a minute before brain damage occurred in about two to four minutes.

He said it was not possible to tell from the examination how long Lachlan was immersed.

Others to be questioned in court today were Royal Life Saving Society of WA chief executive Peter Leaversuch and pool inspector Tamsyn Young, who had passed the Carramar home as compliant while working on behalf of the City of Wanneroo in 2015.

She said the only issue was a fault with the gate closing, which was fixed when she re-inspected it in March, 2015.

She did not recall seeing pot plants along the fence line.

Ms Linton will prepare her findings.

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