Father says Gore council not to blame for toddler son's death

The father of a toddler found dead in a Gore oxidation pond four years ago says the district council was not responsible for the tragedy.

In a victim impact statement at the sentencing of the Gore District Council in the town’s district court today, Paul Jones said "two substandard police investigations" had reached the wrong conclusion about the death of his three-year-old son, Lachie, on January 29, 2019.

The council’s actions and the state of the fencing around the ponds "had no bearing" on the tragedy, Mr Jones said.

Police found Lachie lying in the southernmost of two council wastewater oxidation ponds in Grassland Rd about 10.20pm, about two hours after police were notified he was missing.

Lachlan Jones, who died in 2019. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Lachlan Jones, who died in 2019. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Mr Jones told the court Lachie’s death effected him "every moment of every day".

"I’ve lived with the heartbreak, the grief, the trauma, and it has seriously impacted all aspects of my life."

Because of his battle to find out the truth, he had not been able to "move ahead and go through the normal process of grieving".

Police originally concluded Lachie had wandered off and his death was an accident.

In March 2020, WorkSafe charged the council under the Health and Safety at Work Act on the grounds the fencing around the ponds was inadequate.

Paul Jones, father of Lachie, after today's sentencing. PHOTO: RHYVA VAN ONSELEN
Paul Jones, father of Lachie, after today's sentencing. PHOTO: RHYVA VAN ONSELEN

However, Mr Jones doubted his son had walked so far, so late, with a full nappy and bare feet, and wrote to Police Commissioner Andrew Coster requesting the investigation be reopened.

Police did so in late 2020, but about 12 months later announced they had wrapped up the case and referred it back to the coroner.

The council initially denied the WorkSafe charge, and a five-day trial was scheduled for late January.

However, WorkSafe amended the charge in December from a breach causing a serious risk of death to one of the council failing to ensure a workplace was without risks to the health and safety of any person.

The council admitted the amended charge in January.

Judge Russell Walker said his role was to deal solely with the charge before him, and not to "engage in any wider inquiry".

 Paul Jones ...
Paul Jones at the site where his son was found at the Gore oxidation ponds. PHOTO: CHRISTINE O’CONNOR
A section of wooden fencing at the public entrance to the ponds, one of two locations where the fencing was inadequate, "effectively provided a ladder for access" for the public only 200m from the nearest residential housing.

He ordered the council pay Lachie’s parents $55,000 each in reparation, and after making deductions for its previous clean record and expression or remorse, quantified a fine of $82,500.

However, he would not impose a fine because it would be an unnecessary burden on the district’s ratepayers.

"A child's life is priceless, and no amount of money can compensate for that loss — it’s unquantifiable", he said.

He also made an order for the council to pay WorkSafe’s costs of $18,874.85.

The council was represented in court by chief executive Stephen Parry, who in a media statement said it "apologised unreservedly" to Lachie’s family.

After carefully reviewed the circumstances leading to the tragedy, it had renewed and strengthened fencing around all three of its ponds, Mr Parry said.