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Dangers found at centre linked to Lyme Bay

Dangerous practices that might have killed a child have been uncovered at an activity centre run by a shareholder in the firm convicted of killing four teenagers at Lyme Bay, according to a report obtained by The TES.

A county council inspector who visited Hyde House, near Wareham, Dorset, found pupils abseiling from a 20ft tower with an instructor failing to use safety equipment properly. A child who fell would only be stopped by the strength of the instructor, the report says.

The centre is owned by Devon and Dorset Adventure Holidays, whose owner, Chris Reynard, had shares in Active Learning and Leisure. Last week Active Learning and Leisure was fined Pounds 60,000 as it became the first company to be convicted of manslaughter.

Hyde House was run for 10 years by Joseph Stoddart, who was in charge of the Lyme Bay centre when the deaths happened. Mr Stoddart was acquitted of manslaughter charges when the jury at the trial failed to reach a verdict.

David Jamieson, the MP who introduced a Bill this week to regulate centres, expressed outrage that pupils were being put at risk.

The report by Alan Cottle, an outdoor education manager for Surrey, followed an unannounced visit in September. Mr Cottle went to the top of the abseiling tower and watched the instructor helping a group of 10-year-olds. The report says: "I was very alarmed ...to see some appalling practice which was totally unsafe." Mr Cottle said the instructor was failing to use the friction brake properly on the rope system, used to stop someone who falls. It meant the instructor would physically have to hold up any child in difficulties.

Mr Jamieson, MP for Plymouth Devonport, said: "This is the type of practice that is going unchecked all the time. This is exactly what my Bill will cover." The MP said that under his proposed legislation an inspector would be able to order a centre to stop a particular activity until the safety is improved.

Although the report by Mr Cottle praised the enthusiasm of the staff at Hyde House and found the teaching of other sports to be good, it said the 15-bed dormitories were potentially dangerous in a fire.

In a statement, the centre said the instructor had been "trained and positively assessed on the abseiling tower by an external Mountain Leader Training Board MIC (fully qualified instructor)."

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