The girl spent three weeks in the burns unit of the Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford. Photo: Peter Stack CC-BY-SA-2.0

The girl spent three weeks in the burns unit of the Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford. Photo: Peter Stack CC-BY-SA-2.0

A council has been fined after a girl on a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expedition was engulfed in flames in an incident involving a camp stove.

The 15-year-old was left scarred for life when another girl poured methylated spirits on a hot stove, causing a flashover.

Newham Council pleaded guilty to a health and safety breach and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £17,246 in costs at Southwark Crown Court. The authority employed the expedition leader for the venture.

The Health and Safety Executive brought the prosecution following the incident at Henfield, Sussex, involving students from Plashet School, East Ham.

The HSE said: “The teenager was caught in a flashover when another girl poured methylated spirits on to the cooking stove as she believed it was going out.

“The erupting flames set fire to the girl’s clothing and headscarf. She suffered severe burns to her hands, arms, face, neck and legs and was in Chelmsford Hospital’s special burns unit for three weeks. She has since had to have a skin graft and has permanent scarring.”

The teenager was one of 25 girls on a three-day Duke of Edinburgh’s Award silver expedition in July 2011, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive, which brought a prosecution against Newham Council for safety failings.

The HSE said fuel should have been kept in the correct containers, safely stored and simple procedures followed for lighting the stove.

As well as the council’s expedition leader two teachers and a school administrator were with the group, which was enjoying the second night at the camp and some were cooking food for the evening meal.

One of the girls wanted to cook some more food but thought the stove was going out.

She picked up a five-litre container of methylated spirits and poured some into the stove causing the instant flashover.

The expedition leader ran to the burning teenager and rolled her back and forth on the ground while shouting for others to bring water and call 999.

At the same time, he was beating her trousers with his hands to try to put out the flames. He saw the girl’s headscarf on fire and quickly removed it while a man from another group poured water over her face. They continued to dowse her with water until paramedics arrived minutes later.

Newham Borough Council pleaded guilty to a breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE inspector John Crookes said: “This incident was avoidable and the failure to take simple safety measures has led to a young girl being unnecessarily scarred for life.

“Councils, schools and voluntary groups that organise camping trips involving the use of highly flammable stove fuel must ensure they implement effective precautions to prevent the ignition of fuel or vapour.

“A five-litre container of methylated spirits should never have been used to fill a camping stove. Any fuel needed for the trip should have been taken in containers incorporating a safety cut-off valve and kept away from ignition sources. There also should have been a better procedure to follow when filling or refilling the stove.

“This is not about stopping school trips or burdening staff with excessive paperwork. It is about identifying simple precautions and ensuring they are in place.”

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