11 September, 2012
This case centres around a school girl who was on a school trip on Dartmoor. She was part of a team of children who were training for the Ten Tors Challenge. In March 2007, a training weekend was arranged on Dartmoor and the girl attended this weekend. The group was carrying out an unaccompanied walk but two members of staff were due to meet them at checkpoints along the way. During the weekend the weather took a sudden turn for the worse and the staff members who were due to meet them lost their way. One of the staff members, Mr Fuller, who led the group and who was named as a Defendant in this case, spoke to the group by telephone. He advised the children to continue walking to the next check point. The most direct route was to cross a stream but Fuller advised against this and told them to go round the stream head. At this point a Scoutmaster became involved and advised the children where he had crossed the stream earlier and encouraged them to cross it. In doing so the girl fell in, was swept away and tragically drowned.
Following the accident, the child's mother then claimed damages for her own psychiatric harm following the death of her daughter and as well as claiming that the school and Fuller had been negligent and were thus responsible for her daughter's death.
The parties agreed that both the school and Fuller owed the children a duty of care and this duty was 'to show such care towards the children as would be exercised taking in the nature and conditions of out of school activities of the type being undertaken, in particular the nature and conditions of the Ten Tors Challenge'.
The Claimant's claim was dismissed. The Court found that although Fuller didn't hold any qualifications, he was competent to lead the weekend and had gone to sufficient lengths to prepare the group. The decision to let the group walk alone was neither foolish nor incompetent and neither was the failure of the two staff members to meet up with the group. The Court found that it was in fact the Scoutmaster's actions who had caused the death of the girl in encouraging the group to cross the stream.
Many schools and clubs now organise outward bound pursuits but as they are no doubt aware, these activities are fraught with risks. However, in this case Fuller's position was greatly strengthened by the efforts that he had gone to prepare the group for the weekend. An interesting point to note is that the Claimant raised that Fuller was not qualified to lead such an activity. Whilst this was found to be true, Fuller was found to be competent to lead. However, the court stated that had Fuller been found incompetent then there would have been a breach of duty on the part of the school as they had refused to pay for him to attend a course in mountaineering. This refusal to pay would have amounted to a breach of duty thereby showing that as always training is key.