'I blame the jelly' said sobbing Dicky Birds Nursery manager at inquest into Tiya Chauhan's death by choking
A nursery manager sobbed 'I blame the jelly' as he was accused of failing to properly supervise a toddler who choked to death.
Tiya Chauhan, aged 22 months, fell unconscious at the Dicky Birds nursery in Wimbledon, while she was involved in a ‘free flow’ play session.
Operations manager Derek Hayes was accused of trying to cover up the nursery's alleged supervision failings at the ongoing inquest into her death.
He 'deliberately minimised' the incident in his formal report to Ofsted and put inaccurate information about how many staff were in the room, it was claimed.
Mr Hayes suspended a nursery assistant to try and appease the inspectors, Dr Fiona Wilcox at the Royal Courts of Justice in London heard.
In a report to the local authority the day after the tragedy he wrote three staff were posted in the room when there were actually two and no one was supervising Tiya, the inquest heard.
"On the allocation sheet at the time of the incident there were two staff which isn't what you have written," Dr Wilcox told Mr Hayes.
Mr Hayes replied that he panicked and did not know what to put.
"Looking at this it could appear that you are attempting to minimise the circumstances," Dr Wilcox said.
Ofsted ordered that the nursery should be closed for six weeks after the incident.
But Mr Hayes wrote to the authority with a set of self-imposed regulations and it was allowed to re-open after just two weeks.
"If it had been closed for six weeks all of our parents would have been devastated," he said.
The conditions included that Dicky Birds, in Dundonald Road, would not use jelly in play or on the menu and ‘free flow’ sessions would be stopped.
The nursery also promised to suspend all the staff directly involved in the incident.
But only one worker was suspended; nursery assistant Natasha Collins.
Mr Hayes said he decided to suspend her because she had cold sores.
"We had to pick somebody so I picked Natasha," he told the jury.
Miss Collins had been assigned to the art room, which adjourned the room where the jelly table was, at the time of the incident.
She was drawing with a group of children and had a limited view of Tiya from where she was, the inquest heard.
Mr Hayes admitted that she had done 'nothing' to deserve being suspended but claims he 'did it sweetly'.
"My priority was to reopen the nursery," he said.
Dr Wilcox accused Mr Hayes of making a scapegoat out of Miss Collins and said: "To the jury this might appear as a bit of a management stitch-up."
Speaking at the inquest, Mr Hayes said: "We actually don't feel it's our fault and don't feel there's anything we need to change but we do need to be respectful."
Prashant Popat representing Tiya's parents Dipa and Chetan Chauhan who sat in the public gallery, said: "No adult in that nursery saw Tiya take jelly from the table.
"If children must be supervised at all times do you really think that there was adequate supervision?"
Mr Hayes replied: "I wasn't there, I don't know who was in the room.
"I blame the jelly."
The tragedy occurred at the nursery at around 9.40am on August 23, 2012, when the jelly was being used in a sensory game.
London Ambulance crew removed a piece of 'jelly-like substance' from Tiya's airway, the inquest was told.
She was taken by ambulance to St George's Hospital but died later the same day.
The cause of death was asphyxiation caused by a foreign body.
The inquest continues.