New death casts doubt on safety of Scouting

29th October 1999 at 01:00
THE FATAL accidents which have rocked the Scouting movement in successive weeks bring to five the number of deaths on Scout-led activities in the past three years, The TES can reveal.

In two cases, the negligent behaviour of Scout leaders led to prosecutions by the Health and Safety Executive and large fines.

Scouts are conducting a top-level inquiry into their own safety procedures.

But the organisation, which has half a million members, is also facing serious questions from outsiders, including commercial operators which have to adhere to a strict licensing regime for adventure holidays.

Last weekend, 35-year-old Scout leader Chris Oliver from Devizes in Wiltshire died after falling 150ft down a steep gully on the 3,000ft Welsh mountain Cader Idris after being caught in appalling weather.

An RAF helicopter recovered Mr Oliver's body, but had to make a second trip to recover a terrified Scout. Mr Oliver did not possess "Form M", the Scout qualification for taking groups into the mountains.

Just a week earlier, 10-year-old Jonathan Attwell had plunged 600ft to his death after becoming separated from a party on the summit of Snowdon. Leaders on that trip were criticised for taking the east ridge route. "That is not a footpath," Snowdonia national park warden Sam Roberts told reporters. "It is a scramble."

The two successful prosecutions relate to safety procedures at Scout-run activity centres. In 1996, 11-year-old Adil Naseem drowned at a Scout activity centre in Buckinghamshire.

Adil was with a group from Feltham Hill Junior School, Hounslow, who were allowed to use a pool at the site without the presence of any lifeguards. "The risk of drowning was obvious," the prosecuting barrister told a court, arguing there should have been a minimum of two lifeguards. The local Scout council was fined pound;10,000.

In November 1997, a Venture Scout died after falling under the wheels of a tractor. Site warden Peter Leyland-Jones had given 22-year-old Emily King a "wholly inadequate" 10-minute driving lesson and 16-year-old Michelle Stanley died when the inexperienced Scout leader lost control. This time the Scouts were fined pound;5,000 with pound;7,000 costs.

In August this year, an eight-year-old boy drowned at the same Scout camp near East Grinstead in Sussex. Jack Sudds was part of a group from a play scheme in Eltham in south London but had become separated from the rest of the party.

Enquiries will focus on "the working procedures and practices of the Scout Council and its staff".

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