A TV presenter launched a fierce attack on the canoe-hire industry after an inquest into his daughter’s death.
Ian Clayton, who appears on ITV Yorkshire, was speaking outside a court in Welshpool where a verdict of misadventure was recorded on nine-year-old Billie Holiday Clayton, who drowned in an incident on the River Wye in April 2006.
Billie’s twin brother Edward and Mr Clayton both survived when their hired canoe capsized, at Glasbury, near Hay-on-Wye, Powys. The presenter said he had to make a choice between saving his son or daughter after the craft got into difficulties on a fast-flowing section of the river.
The girl was pulled from the water by firefighters who attempted to revive her, but she was pronounced dead at Hereford General Hospital.
Speaking outside the court, the presenter, from Featherstone, West Yorkshire, said: “The canoe-hire industry is a shambolic mess of a business. It’s a stupidly unregulated thing; lack of knowledge and ignorance within canoe hire is rewarded by being protected from the health-and-safety rules that apply to professional, guided canoeing.”
Coroner Peter Maddox said he intended writing to the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority with a recommendation that the rules governing the hire of canoes undergo a review. He issued a seven-page summary, containing 11 points of evidence to which any review body could refer.
At present, only led and guided canoeing and kayaking for under 18s comes under the remit of AALA. The coroner said the present system was too relaxed and potentially confusing.
Mr Clayton, 48, said after the verdict: “We live in times of increased awareness about health-and-safety issues yet it seems to me that any Tom, Dick, Harry or fly-by-night merchant can take money to hire out their canoe without regulation.
“If I am a customer of a canoe-hire company, I’m expected to have some knowledge of how to keep safe, how to paddle and what to do in case of capsizing.
“Yet if I wish to hire out that canoe, I don’t even have to know which end of the paddle to put into the water.
“Now, I don’t believe you can ever have 100 per cent safety and in physical activity there always has to be an element of risk for an adventure to be an adventure.
“But in the 21st century we ought to be able to balance risk, adventure and safety.”
The British Canoe Union, which represents paddlers’ interests, said: “The incident involving the death of Billie Clayton was extremely unfortunate and rare.
“It would be inappropriate to pass any comment in the absence of the coroner’s conclusions.
“Much has been made of the absence of a licensing system for providers of canoe hire equipment. It is impossible to conclude that such a system, if it existed, would have prevented the incident on the Wye.
“It should be remembered that, like any outdoor activity, canoeing is an assumed-risk sport, and that generally canoeing is as safe as the participant makes it.
“As well as hiring equipment, participants have choice and option to obtain instruction from a suitably qualified coach or centre. These are numerous on the Wye and in the Hay-on-Wye area."
AALA was set up following the Lyme Bay tragedy of 1993, in which four teenage canoeists perished.