Grandmother spared jail after 11-month granddaughter drowned in bath
13th November 2020

Grandmother, 53, is spared jail after her 11-month-old granddaughter drowned in the bath when she left her alone for ‘two to three minutes’ to get her dressing gown from her bedroom

  • Shirley Grenfell, 53,  left bathroom for two minutes on Boxing Day in 2017
  • Granddaughter Chanelle Grenfell, 11-months, drowned in bath during that time 
  • Grandmother of twelve sentenced to one year in prison, suspended 18 months

A grandmother has been spared jail after her 11-month-old granddaughter drowned in a bath in the next room while she went to put on her dressing gown.

Shirley Grenfell, 53, from Illogan Highway, Cornwall, left the bathroom for two minutes on Boxing Day morning in 2017 to get dressed in her room as baby Chanelle Grenfell was in the bath in the next room.

When she returned she found Chanelle ‘under the water on her back’ and completely submerged in 14cm or just over five inches of water.

During the two minutes she was away from her granddaughter Grenfell admitted changing the channel on her bedroom TV, but insisted she was not ‘watching’ the TV soap Emmerdale.

Shirley Grenfell left the bathroom for two minutes on Boxing Day morning in 2017 to get dressed as baby Chanelle Grenfell (pictured) was in the bath next to grandmother’s bedroom

She told a jury at Truro Crown Court: ‘I didn’t watch it – I glanced at it.’

She said the TV was ‘on in the background’ as she put on a hair wrap and her dressing gown and ‘then I went and sat down on the bed for I don’t know how long it was’.

The grandmother of twelve said she felt safe going into her bedroom as the bathroom was so close she could hear Chanelle.

Grenfell had denied manslaughter by gross negligence and a second alternative charge of cruelty to a child – but a jury failed to reach verdicts and was discharged. 

Today Grenfell returned to court to admit child cruelty and she was given a suspended jail sentence.

Shirley Grenfell, 53, (right) outside Truro Crown Court today. Mrs Justice May said Grenfell is a ‘loving and accommodating grandmother’

The judge Mrs Justice May said: ‘You are a loving and accommodating grandmother. Chanelle lost her life as a result of what happened that day.’

She said Chanelle was a ‘happy and smiling’ child as seen in clips and photos but her short life meant her hopes and promises would never be realised.

Mrs Justice May said Grenfell was a ‘kind and caring grandmother who was generous with her time’ and Chanelle’s death was the result of ‘tragic inattention’.

She said the effects on Grenfell were ‘severe and remain with you’.

Grenfell was given a one year sentence, suspended for 18 months, with Justice May ordering a not guilty plea be entered on the manslaughter charge.

Chanelle’s mother Kirtsy Mankee, who was not in court due to illness, said in a statement that her daughter was a ‘much loved character’.

She said: ‘She is truly missed every day. I hope she knows how much her mummy loves her.’

She hoped that people will ‘think hard before putting their kids in a bath alone’.

Grenfell was sentenced to sentenced to one year imprisonment, suspended 18 months, for child cruelty at Truro Crown Court (pictured), Cornwall

Simon Laws, QC, defending, said Grenfell’s life was ‘very much devoted to her family, bringing up her children and to be a caring and loving grandmother to a large number of grandchildren.’

He said the tragedy is the ‘last thing she thinks about at night and the first thing she thinks about in the morning’ adding: ‘That is still the case for her today. The effects on her have been severe. This terrible tragedy is with her all the time. Christmas will simply never be an event of celebration.’

At her earlier trial, she said she had been in her bedroom getting dressed after having a bath herself.

She emptied some of the bath water and put Chanelle at the tap end of the bath and the water was ‘up to her belly’ as she played with some plastic toys.

In a 999 call to police she said: ‘I did not realise she was under the water.’

She said she had left the bathroom for ‘two to three minutes’ and found Chanelle ‘under the water on her back’ and completely submerged.

A pathologist said Chanelle drowned adding that once she slipped from an upright position she would not have been able to right herself.

Grenfell said she was not aware ‘if she fell down she would not be able to get back up’.

On the day of the tragedy PC Jason Dower was sent to the home and said the bath contained 14cm or just over five inches of water.

Grenfell told the officer: ‘I had a bath and got out. I let some water out and put Chanelle in. I went to the bedroom to put my dressing gown on. I went to the bathroom and Chanelle was under the water.’

PC Dower said Grenfell was in ‘complete shock and crying’ adding: ‘She was struggling with grief as she felt responsible.’

Chanelle was airlifted to a Truro hospital but transferred to a Bristol children’s hospital where she died the next day.

Prosecutor Miss Jo Martin QC said NHS advice is that babies and toddlers should be put into a bath filled with no more than two inches of water and that they should ‘not be left alone for a moment’.

She said babies can topple over and cannot right themselves and that can lead to drowning.

Miss Martin said Grenfell left Chanelle unattended and unsupervised for at least two minutes.

She said Grenfell obviously did not want to harm Chanelle but she ‘did have a duty of care for her that day’.

Miss Martin said: ‘What happened on Boxing Day was clearly a tragedy and people clearly make mistakes.

‘Leaving an 11 month old baby in a bath unsupervised gives rise to a serious and obvious risk of death. She was being negligent, not just negligent, but grossly negligent.’

Simon Laws, QC, defending, said: ‘Sadly tragedies and accidents happen. Very often someone is to blame. What happened here was the last thing that anyone would possibly have wished, a very young child having lost her life in a way that was both tragic and unintended.’

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