Tragedy in Norway – what happens now?

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Many no longer hold such trips as they consider the risk too great, some because of the potential litigation which may follow should things go wrong.  The news has been full of such stories for years.

I am a personal injury lawyer and work on behalf of injured parties, but I too am a mother of four sons and value the benefit of such trips.  Yes, I have worried when the coach has left the school gates and, yes, I am always pleased to see them home safe.  But I also see the look on their faces both before they go and when they return and, with three of my sons well into their 20's, the trips are still fresh in their minds.  In days when youngsters spend too much time in front of their computers, it is a thrill to see the light in their eyes, rather than the dark circles beneath.

The expedition to Norway was organised by the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES), with about 80 people involved.  The young people in the group ranged from between 16 and 23.  The purpose of the expedition included training in outdoor survival techniques.  The youngsters were shown how to shoot and how to use bear flares.  Ironically, it was a polar bear which was the cause of young Horatio's demise. 

The BSES was founded in 1932 by George Murray Levick, a member of Captain Scott's final Antarctic Expedition and provides young people with once in a life time experiences. Many young people would, no doubt, count down the days until they set off, full of excitement and anticipation.  I have no doubt that Horatio was an excited young man at the prospect of being involved in such a trip.

The circumstances surrounding the dreadful accident are now being investigated and two key points appear to have surfaced.  While the expedition team had correctly pitched their tents on a hill and away from the water's edge, they failed to have team members on continuous watch for bears, and their tripwire system may not have been set up correctly.  This system is designed to set off flares if an animal crosses the wire scaring it away.   It also seems that the rifle used to kill the bear, failed to fire on four occasions before successfully firing.  The rifle has been sent for forensic examination.

The BSES are sure to face an investigation in the UK and Horatio's death will come under further examination at a forthcoming inquest in Salisbury.

Nothing will give comfort to Horatio's family and friends.  His dreams of reading medicine and finding a cure for type one diabetes will never happen.  He leaves behind two younger brothers, his youngest a type one diabetes sufferer.  His parents, siblings, family and friends' grief will be indescribable and my thoughts go out to them at this time.

In the face of this tragedy we can only hope that some lessons are learned.  The law lays down specific requirements such as the need for risk assessments and training to name but two.  Health and Safety legislation is key and risk assessments are fundamental in this legislation. Guidelines are already in place.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees. In turn, the employees, or educational professionals, must also take reasonable care of their own and others' safety.  Employers must ensure that those carrying out risk assessments are competent to do so. 

The requirement extends to anyone who may be affected by these activities, and here this would extend to those taking part in the expedition and their families.  The employer would be deemed to be the BSES.

As an indicator of reasonable care, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires that suitable and sufficient risk assessments be carried out, to be able to show that as a result, all ‘reasonable precautions’ were taken in terms of supervision, protection and training before and during a trip.

This may sound technical but in fact it is largely common sense. The complexity of the assessment will increase with the risks involved in the trip — but the key is in the planning, and the vast majority of are sensible enough to identify the risks that apply to an educational trip, and tackle them accordingly.

When looking for guidance turn to the case of Tomlinson v Congleton Borough Council [2003].  This case set out the test: there must be a balance between any risk, the social value of the activity which gives rise to the risk and the cost of preventative measures. 

 Consider, too, the Health & Safety Executive's Guidelines.

There is no doubt that this accident was a dreadful tragedy and I can only imagine the pain all those involved are going through.  But I would also be sad to see such trips disappear from our youngsters' lives.  I understand that the BSES has already ended their expeditions and I can understand the sensitivity in so doing.  But I am sure that there are many young girls and boys out there, not to mention us grown ups, who are excited about the prospect of up and coming trips and expeditions.  I cannot speak for Horatio's parents, but wonder if they, too, would not wish such trips to end.  Their son was clearly a son to be proud of.

For further information please contact Deborah Blackmore in our Personal Injury Team on 023 8085 7446 or at

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