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Dartmoor Ten Tors training death was 'negligence'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: April 20, 2012

  • Charlotte Shaw died when she was swept away in a swollen river

  • Jenny Wilkin- Shaw is seeking compensation and a liability order over the death of her daughter

A mother whose schoolgirl daughter died during a Ten Tors training exercise launched a High Court damages action yesterday.

Charlotte Shaw, 14, drowned after falling into a swollen river on Dartmoor in March 2007 while hiking during severe weather conditions in preparation for the annual expedition.

She was among 11 pupils from Edgehill College (now Kingsley School), in Bideford, North Devon, taking part in the challenge.

Jennifer Wilkin-Shaw alleges that teacher Christopher Fuller, the exercise team manager, and Kingsley School Bideford Trust Company Ltd were to blame for the tragedy.

She claims Mr Fuller was not sufficiently qualified or experienced and the risk assessment was inadequate.

Compensation of £350,000 has been agreed subject to the contested issue of liability, which will be decided by Mr Justice Owen at a two-week trial in London.

Her counsel, Dr Michael Powers QC, told the judge the primary cause of Charlotte's death was negligent acts and omissions which led to the children being presented with a situation beyond their competence in the absence of adult supervision from team leaders.

"Had a competent leader from the school with knowledge of the children's limitations been present, no attempt to cross the Walla Brook would have been made in those conditions. The children would – or should – have been led to safety or instructed to pitch camp whilst the leader organised their rescue."

He added that, undoubtedly, the Ten Tors Expedition had great social value and Mrs Wilkin-Shaw would be the last to see any step taken which would diminish its benefit to young people.

"Children are inevitably put to a degree of risk which is unavoidable," he said.

"Reasonable steps however have to be taken to safeguard them, taking into account all the relevant circumstances.

"Any parental perception that children would be exposed to unreasonable or unnecessary risks in participation would have a detrimental effect on recruitment to the Ten Tors. The Expedition is supposed to be a challenge – not a survival exercise."

Ronald Walker QC, for the defendants, said that Charlotte's death was the result of a "tragic accident".

She fell into a fast flowing river, which she was attempting to cross, at the suggestion – and with the assistance – of a well-intentioned Scout leader, who had since died and against whom no allegation of negligence was made.

"But the case that this event was the fault of the school, or Mr Fuller, is unsustainable," he said. "Neither Mr Fuller nor any other member of staff knew that the group was intending to cross a fast flowing river, nor could they reasonably have foreseen that they would attempt to do so. Indeed they had been told not to do so and advised by Mr Fuller to take an alternative route – and had told him by telephone that they could not cross."

There was no legal requirement for Mr Fuller to posses any particular formal qualification. But, he had completed the Duke of Edinburgh Silver and Gold Awards, had attended a managers' training weekend and been the school's Ten Tors manager in 2006, he said, adding that the allegation that there was inadequate risk assessment was wholly misconceived. The hearing continues.

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