The MP responsible for new legislation on outdoor activity centres has urged schools to scrutinise instructors' qualifications after one firm was fined Pounds 8,000 for failing to ensure the safety of a 12-year-old pupil.
Liverpool-based Mountain Ventures Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive following an accident in which Lynsey Henderson was seriously injured after falling 30 feet into a disused slate quarry near the company's Bryn Du Centre, in Padarn Country Park, Snowdonia.
Caernarvon magistrates heard last week how Lynsey was one of a party of 14 pupils and a teacher from Anderson high school, Lerwick, Shetland, who were being supervised by two trainee instructors as they bivouacked beside the quarry. One instructor held a Mountain Leader Training Board certificate, but neither had been in charge of an overnight party before.
Lynsey woke up in the middle of the night, stepped over a low wall and fell into the quarry, magistrates were told. She suffered a punctured lung, a ruptured spleen and cuts and bruises, and broke several ribs.
She spent two weeks in hospital and a HSE inspector, Alan Venables, told The TES that she would probably have died if she had not been found quickly.
David Jamieson, Labour MP for Plymouth Devonport, the home constituency of the four teenage victims of the 1993 Lyme Bay canoeing disaster, and the man behind the Activity Centres Act said the case highlighted the need for teachers to ask for information about activity instructors before making bookings.
"It's vital for instructors to have adequate experience as well as the relevant qualifications. A lack of adequate supervision creates the biggest hazard in outdoor situations," he said.
Mr Jamieson's views were echoed by Anderson High headteacher Ian Spence, who recalled his "sheer horror" at learning of the accident. "You cannot ask too many questions before selecting a centre," he said. "We knew there was to be bivouacking, but we did not ask where it was going to take place or who would be accompanying the party."
Mr Spence said the school had received adequate assurances from the Welsh Tourist Board about Bryn Du, but added: "We will not use Mountain Ventures again."
Lynsey was injured on May 20 last year, just 11 days after Bryn Du had passed a safety inspection and been re-admitted to the Welsh Tourist Board's outdoor activity safety accreditation scheme. Its accreditation had been suspended pending appeal in August 1994 amid concern over supervisor qualifications.
Graham Dorret, the teacher who accompanied the Anderson High party, told the two-day trial that the bivouacking experience was "akin to camping on the edge of a cliff". Gwynned County Council now forbids overnight stays.
Mr Dorret said the two instructors, Alexander Mabbs, 20, from Jersey, and Stephen Parkin, 28, from Liverpool, had not made him or the pupils adequately aware of the potential dangers.
Mountain Ventures managing director Jim Lyon told the court his firm had used the quarry site for many years without incident, but admitted the party had been exposed to a hazard.
Expert witness Alastair Kellas, principal of Derwent Hill Outdoor Education Centre, Keswick, told the court the site was suitable for bivouacking, but expressed concern at the supervision. "I would have expected a qualified instructor, accompanied by a trainee," he said.
Mountain Ventures, which arranges activities for approximately 100 schools each year, was ordered to pay Pounds 9,096 costs in addition to the Pounds 8,000 fine. The firm had denied failing to ensure the safety of someone not in its employment.
Mr Lyon told The TES: "We are disappointed. We believe we took all reasonable and practical steps at the time to ensure the safety of the group. We would like to reassure [schools] that many lessons have been learned from this most unfortunate, most unusual and totally unpredictable accident."