Inquiry hears how Fife mans lifeless body was pulled from swimming pool

The former Hilton Hotel in Dundee
The former Hilton Hotel in Dundee
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A health club manager has told an inquiry how she hauled the lifeless body of a north Fife pensioner from a hotel swimming pool.

Michael McDonald died after he was found at the bottom of the pool at Livingwell Health Club, part of the now demolished Hilton Hotel in Dundee’s Earl Grey Place.

Fellow member William Tanner spotted the 73-year-old lying motionless in the water in November 2011 and summoned club manager Jennifer Newcombe, who ran to his aid.

The 37-year-old told a fatal accident inquiry into Mr McDonald’s death that he was a regular at the club who she had seen “five days a week for seven years”.

Mrs Newcombe told Dundee Sheriff Court: “Sadly, his health had started to deteriorate in our eyes - there were notable changes.

“We were aware he was suffering from Parkinson’s.”

On the day of the accident, Mrs Newcombe said Mr McDonald briefly went to the gym, which he hadn’t done for some time, before entering the pool.

She said: “The way I was positioned, he was in my eyesight. I wasn’t constantly watching him, but I was aware.”

Mrs Newcombe told depute fiscal Gavin Callaghan she became aware something was wrong “within a couple of minutes.”

She said: “Billy Tanner came in from the gym and said, ‘Is Michael ok?’. I then saw him at the bottom of the pool.”

Mrs Newcombe said after Mr McDonald, of Newport, was pulled from the water there were “no signs” of breathing, but after performing mouth-to-mouth, his “colour came back” and there were signs of life.

Barry Smith QC, representing Hilton Hotels, said: “Mr McDonald was a well-known older man with health difficuties who you looked out for?”

Mrs Newcombe replied: “We all did,” adding that she and her staff were “very much” affected by his death.

Mr Smith asked: “If you had any concerns over the safety of the pool would you have drawn it to the attention of Hilton?”

“Yes,” she replied. “I was 100 per cent satisfied with what we had in place.”

Earlier, Mr Tanner, 57, said he knew Mr McDonald “very well” and that both men were regulars at the club.

Describing him as “a fighter”, Mr Tanner said that Mr McDonald’s Parkinson’s Disease affected him in “a lot of ways”, but he “didn’t talk about it much”.

Mr Tanner said: “He would get tired. Some days he would shake a little bit. There was a gradual decline in his health.

“He would try and do as much as he could in the gym. He would also go for a swim.”

The inquiry heard that the Livingwell pool, which was monitored by CCTV, was shallow around the edges and 1.9m deep in the middle.

On November 25, 2011 the health club manager Jennifer Newcombe was on duty at the reception desk and Mr Tanner came into the pool area at around 7.35am.

He said: “I saw an object on the 
bottom of the pool and I alerted the staff. I said to Jennifer: ‘What the heck?’

“Her reply was: ‘Oh God, that’s Michael.’

“I saw what looked like a black object. When a pool is in motion you can’t really see what’s there.

“He wasn’t floating, he was definitely on the bottom. I think his face would have been down. There was no movement at all.

“Jennifer jumped into the pool. I panicked, I didn’t know what to do. You don’t see many dead bodies in your life.

“Jennifer gave him mouth to mouth.”

Margaret Dempster, 59, the Hilton Hotel’s duty manager in November 2011, said she visited the health club every morning as part of her rounds.

She said: “A member came down the corridor and said there’s something wrong with Michael.

“Jennifer went in the pool area and I heard her shouting. The next thing I remember, she was in the water.”

Ms Dempster, who called an ambulance, said Mr McDonald was “very white with blue lips” before CPR was performed but then “colour started to come up.”

Sheriff Lorna Drummond QC is expected to give a written judgement in the case in the next month.