The Explorer Scout fell 80m on the Great Orme, Llandudno. Photo: Nilfanion CC-BY-SA-3.0

The Explorer Scout fell 80m on the Great Orme, Llandudno. Photo: Nilfanion CC-BY-SA-3.0

A coroner has said the Scout Association is putting young people’s lives at risk by failing to address shortcomings in its practices.

David Pojur, assistant coroner for north Wales east and central, issued a report to prevent future deaths at a hearing in Ruthin on Friday.

Mr Pojur halted the inquest into the death of 16-year-old Ben Leonard, who fell 60m (200ft) on the Great Orme, Llandudno in August 2018, saying the youth organisation had misled the jury at the court.

Ben, of Stockport, Greater Manchester, was with a group from Reddish Explorer Scouts when the incident happened. The youth group was due to ascend Snowdon but leaders changed their plans because of adverse weather and instead went to Llandudno.

The coroner halted proceedings while the jury was deliberating over its decision. He said the association’s national safety manager Jess Kelly had not revealed that the three leaders involved, Sean Glaister, Gareth Williams and Mary Carr, had had their responsibilities restricted after the fatal incident.

Mr Pojur said because of this, jury members did not have the full facts on which to base their decisions.

A new inquest will take place in July when the Scout Association’s chief executive Matt Hyde is likely to be called to give evidence.

The assistant coroner also issued a 20-point report to prevent future deaths. Among issues in the report were: there was no written risk assessment for the activity, nor was there any dynamic risk assessment. He said there was not a full understanding of what a risk assessment was, nor when these should be undertaken.

The leaders did not have a list of young participants’ phone numbers, and the young people were not given instruction for the trip. There was no effective leadership and each of the three leaders wrongly assumed three boys, including Ben, who became separated from the group, was with another leader.

No route had been planned for the walk.

Approval for the activity had not been obtained from the Scouts’ district commissioner, as required by the association’s procedures, the 48-page Policy, Organisation and Rules, and no district commissioner was present to oversee the group’s activities.

The trip did not therefore adhere to the Scout Association’s policies. Mr Pojur said safety policies exist but are not implemented, and there is a lack of adequate understanding of them at grassroots level. The leaders on the trip did not have a meaningful discussion about the venture.

He said the Scout Association had failed to provide the court with full information about action taken over the leaders following the death and it created a misleading impression in evidence about the actions taken regarding the leaders.

The report said the Scout Association is distant from its membership through its federated branches of 8,000 charities and layers of hierarchy, meaning it cannot know how health and safety is executed at ground level. The health and safety training intervals for leaders was said to be every three years with no way of assessing their competencies.

The coroner said the lives of young people are being put at risk by the Scout Association’s failure to recognise the inadequacies of their operational practice and the part this played in the death of Ben.

Adults in Scouting who want to lead certain activities must hold an activity permit issued by the association. This includes hillwalking, which is categorised by the Scouts into three ‘terrain classes’.

Terrain zero, for which leader does not need a permit but must obtain approval for the activity from the appropriate commissioner, is land below 500m, within 30 minutes’ walk from a road or building and has no mountainous steep ground.

Terrain one is land between 500m and 800m and between 30 minutes and three hours travelling time and is without steep ground requiring the use of hands to progress.

Terrain two covers areas above 800m, more than three hours remote or which require the use of hands for scrambling.

Permits are required for the last two categories.

The Great Orme only rises to 207m but has extensive steep rocky ground around the headland. The Explorer Scout fell on to the road below one of the crags.

His mother Jackie Leonard said he was ‘a wonderful boy and a fantastic son and brother.’

The Scout Association said in a statement: “We were all truly saddened by Ben’s tragic death. This was a terrible event, and our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends.

“We take this matter very seriously. We will be carefully considering the coroner’s concerns and will respond in detail in due course.

“The safety of young people is our number one priority. Following this tragic event, we have strengthened our policies and procedures to ensure young people can enjoy activities safely.

“As this case has not concluded, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this stage.”

  • Bob Smith is an associate member of the Scouting Association.

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