The parents of the toddler who drowned after wandering off during a nursery school day trip say they miss their “happy little boy” as three of the youngster’s teachers were convicted over his death.
The case resulted in four teachers from the nursery school charged with negligent homicide, and three have now been convicted after Judge Henning Luedtke warned that “the worst thing that can happen has happened”.
The tragedy happened in Wolfsburg in the central German state of Lower Saxony, when the 16-month-old – who had only just started to learn to walk and speak – was taken on a trip to a nearby playground by carers. They failed to notice that the toddler who was the youngest of the 12 youngsters in the group had wandered off where he fell into a rainwater retention ditch.
Experts said he had probably been there for several minutes before he was found by the carers who tried to resuscitate him. The boy died 12 days later from brain damage as a result of being starved of oxygen while lying in the ditch.
The fourth carer was acquitted after the court heard that they had simply turned up voluntarily for the day and were not officially on duty at the time the tragedy happened in the Nordsteimke district of Wolfsburg in Lower Saxony in April last year.
The court said that the three convicted should have noticed that the youngest child of the group of 12 had run away, and he managed to walk 30 metres when he fell into the ditch before they noticed.
Convicting the three, the judge said: “This is not a normal court case, we are dealing here with an event that nobody wanted to happen.”
The three convicted, two teachers and a social assistant, were fined 4,500 EUR (3,800 GBP) each and put on probation. However, the court rejected a plea by the parents to have them banned from the profession for life.
The judge said that the accident was tragic and avoidable, especially given the very young age of the boy, but that the individual guilt was less despite the dire consequences. Prosecutors had wanted a six-month suspended sentence for the three, and the defence had wanted all three acquitted.
Before sentencing, the parents were allowed to address the court with the mother saying that she wanted to give her little boy voice.
She said he had only just learned to walk and speak, adding: “He was a happy little boy who just didn’t want to get bored.”
She said that after his death it had been a difficult and agonising time, made worse by the fact that they had seen no gesture of regret from the three accused.
At the close of the court case, the three convicted did express their regret saying that they were “infinitely sorry” for what happened. They said however that while the investigation was ongoing they had been forbidden from visiting the intensive care unit or contacting the parents.
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