Toddler drowned in garden pond
A toddler fell into a garden pond and drowned within five minutes of her family losing sight of her in Co Down, an inquest has heard.
Emily Jo McCaughey Clarke, aged 20 months, was discovered face down at the bottom of the pool outside a family friend's house in Ballyhalbert. She was brain dead by the time she was lifted from the water and was pronounced dead later in hospital, doctors said.
The Belfast inquest heard how homeowner Leonora Ginn had invited the family to her Harbour Road property in the village after a Sunday Methodist church service.
Emily Jo's mother Kirsty Clarke enjoyed gardening and they spent several hours weeding flower beds with the infant running in and out of the house, checking regularly on her. The pond was at the top of the garden in a raised area and was barely visible from where the adults and another child were working in warm sunlight in June last year.
Ms Ginn warned the family, from Steel Dickson Avenue in Portaferry, of the danger posed by the pond when they first arrived. "We had become a bit distracted and focused on the weeding and just chatting and conversation," she said.
They were facing the wrong direction from the pond for part of the time and the last time Ms Ginn saw the child she was in the kitchen. The only clue that Emily Jo was in the murky pond was her bottle lying near the water's edge.
Emily Jo's grandmother Jo Ellen Mercer was also present, and said: "The whole incident from Emily being at the (kitchen) table to being in the pond could not have been a five-minute gap, it all happened so fast."
The family tried to resuscitate her, the emergency services attended and the toddler was taken to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald then on to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast but the prognosis was poor. Sean McGovern, a consultant at the Ulster Hospital, said: "Unfortunately her brain died whilst in the pond and whilst attempts were made to restart the heart they were ultimately futile in terms of returning to brain recovery."
Coroner Jim Kitson recorded the cause of death as cerebral hypoxia and pneumonia after the baby fell into the pool. "I do not want anyone to leave court today with the impression that anyone is under any cloud of blame," he said.
"This is a tragic accident. Ponds are notoriously dangerous where young children are concerned, it was located quite some distance from anyone. This child disappeared from your view for a matter of seconds or minutes."