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Gym injury ruling to pose staff problems

An Appeal Court ruling which found a local authority negligent in permitting youngsters to perform gymnastics without proper supervision at a youth centre is likely to have wider implications.

Last month, the court dismissed an appeal by Bedfordshire County Council against a ruling made in July 1993 upholding a claim by Robert Fowles for damages for severe injuries after he attempted a forward somersault, unaided, at the Bedford Youth House.

The court also found that the local authority was in breach of its statutory duty and negligent in permitting young people to do gymnastics without a proper system of instruction that should ensure hazardous manoeuvres are only performed in the presence of a qualified supervisor.

Lord Justice Otton said that Mr Fowles, who was aged 21 at the time and a fine athlete, was attempting forward somersaults with a crash mat wrongly positioned against a wall.

He over-rotated and hit the wall, injuring his spine and spinal cord.

There was no member of staff present who was qualified to teach gymnastics, still less to the level required for that move. Staff were aware that youngsters were performing all kinds of gymnastics with no supervision.

Nigel Hook, head of technical services at the Central Council of Physical Recreation, said the case had "enormous ramifications" for schools as well as youth and outdoor activity centres and for other sporting activities. The national curriculum required children to do gym, but there was a shortage of qualified staff at primary level, for example.

The Lyme Bay canoeing tragedy which led to Government support for a private member's Bill on regulating and inspecting outdoor activity centres - at present going through Parliament - will mean closer monitoring of levels of competence for instructors and coaches, he said. Schools were advised to check their insurance policies as well.

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