School and teachers not to blame for 14-year-old’s drowning on school trip

July 6th, 2012

Owen J has dismissed the claim brought by the mother of Charlotte Shaw, the 14-year-old who tragically died in May 2007 while on a school trip training for the Ten Tors expedition on Dartmoor.  Mrs Shaw claimed damages for personal injury, namely a chronic grief reaction and severe PTSD resulting from the death of her daughter and, as administratrix of her daughter’s estate, damages for loss to the estate.  The damages were agreed at £350,000, subject to Mrs Shaw establishing that the school and/or teachers responsible had acted negligently in relation to her daughter’s death.

The training was over a weekend, with 11 children and 4 adults, walking and camping on Dartmoor.  The children were, on the Sunday, to walk to checkpoints where they would meet their teachers.  They reached the first an hour early, but the teachers were not there as they had become lost orienteering.  It was cold and raining.  They rang their teachers, who told them to wait where they were.  Then a scout master, Mr Wills, found them.  He considered that they were too cold and should continue walking.  He rang the teachers and advised them accordingly.  The teachers agreed.  However, in order to reach the next checkpoint they had to cross a flooded brook (Walla Brook).  The teacher advised them to walk round the long way, but Mr Wills intervened and said he had crossed at a certain place earlier and that he considered it was safe to cross there.  He helped the group across the brook.  The penultimate girl was nervy and so Mr Wills told her to take her rucksack off.  She then crossed safely and Mr Wills asked Charlotte (the last girl) to throw the rucksack and then cross.  She dropped the rucksack, reached for it and fell in after it and was swept away.  Mr Wills was unable to reach her.

Owen J held that although the teachers leading the expedition had no relevant qualifications, they appeared competent and had prepared the team appropriately.  He also considered that the group had been capable and fit to continue at the time of the accident.  He accepted that Mr Wills’ intervention was the immediate cause of the accident, and that without his advice the group would have done as their teachers had thought appropriate and gone round the long way.  He also accepted that the teachers having themselves got lost was not negligent; the training for the Ten Tors was supposed to include the group learning to navigate on their own and, by getting to the checkpoint early they had demonstrated they were competent to do this.  Accordingly, liability as against the school and teachers was not established.  No claim appears to have been brought against Mr Wills, who had in any event died before the hearing.

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