A father arrived at  a leisure centre  to find his four-year-old son drowning while swimming instructors chatted amongst themselves, a judge heard.

The lifeguard who should have been watching over 21 children had left his post to lay lane markers for the next group.

Powys County Council (PCC) admitted breaching the 1974 Health and Safety Act and the 1999 Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, relating to an incident at the Bro Ddyfi Leisure Centre in Machynlleth.

Judge Geraint Walters, sitting at Swansea Crown Court, last Thursday, fined the authority £75,000 and ordered it to pay prosecution costs of £16,000, in addition to the £8,000 it had already paid towards the cost of the investigation.

Simon Parrington, prosecuting, said on November 24, 2014, Gryffydd Rhys Davies arrived at the pool to collect his son, Evan, from the ‘minnows’ class, made up of eight youngsters who could not swim.

After the 30 minute lessons all 21 children were allowed to mix in a three minute free play session.

Mr Davies could not see his son and walked to the side of the pool, where he spotted him lifeless and underwater.

At that moment, said Mr Parrington, Evan’s instructor, Bethany Byrne, was chatting to fellow instructors Ellen Dawson and Eleanor George and had her back to Evan.

Mr Davies raised the alarm and Miss Byrne picked Evan out of the water. He was unconscious, was not breathing and his lips were already blue.

“If he had been in the water some seconds more the outcome would have been fatal,” said Mr Parrington.

Another parent at the session, Sonja Rogers, was able to revive Evan, who spent the night in Bronglais Hospital.

“Evan had not been in the vision of his teacher, Bethany Byrne. Whilst behind her and unseen he went out of his depth and under the water.

“How often do we hear ‘I only turned my back for a moment?’

“It was only when Mr Evans observed his son at the bottom of the pool that steps were taken to rescue him,” added the prosecutor.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive revealed that the authority had never carried out a risk assessment for the free play periods.

Also an alarm button could not be reached by lifeguard Kai Lewis without him climbing down from his high chair - and it did not ring in the pool at all but in the reception area.

The pool, said Mr Parrington, had been well staffed, but they had allowed themselves to be distracted during free play which actually created higher risks to the children than organised programmes did.

Richard Lynagh, the barrister representing the authority, said the swimming classes had been running for 14 years without any incident.

Mr Lynagh said the authority had co-operated fully with the HSE.

Judge Walters said the lack of effective supervision was the main cause of the near tragedy.

He placed the offending in a bracket that allowed a fine of between £130,000 and £750,000, but the authority was due a discount for pleading guilty and he had to bear in mind the council’s only source of money effectively came from the people it served.