Last reviewed 28 February 2022
A school has been sentenced for its failures to adequately manage the risks posed by a trip which resulted in a group of children having to be rescued by Keswick Mountain Rescue Team (KMRT) from Helvellyn after they became stranded in wintry conditions.
Newcastle Magistrates’ Court was told that, on 5 March 2020, the group of 13 Year 10 pupils from The Gateshead Cheder were on an organised trip to the Lake District, led by one teacher and a teaching assistant.
Despite reviewing the Lake District Weatherline Report, which stressed the dangers to those ascending above the snow line, the school decided the trip should still go ahead as planned. Their route included ascending from Wythburn via Birk Side, and descending Helvellyn via Browncove Crags.
Many of the children did not have suitable equipment, with a number of them wearing school shoes and school trousers while others were wearing trainers.
The party had a map but relied on a smartphone app as a compass. The adults leading the trip had no formal qualifications in mountain leadership nor any experience of mountain environments in winter conditions.
As the party made their descent, they inadvertently ventured off the path and unknowingly began traversing the west face of Helvellyn towards a section of steep terrain. One of the pupils slid on the ice and fell several metres, sustaining minor cuts, which caused another pupil to panic and run from the group down the mountain.
The party was eventually located and rescued by KMRT, who cut steps into the snow to assist the children back to the path and down the mountain. The missing pupil made it back down the mountain and was found by members of the public.
The school pleaded guilty to breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of The Health and Safety at Work (etc) act 1974. It was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £181 with costs of £4574.90.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Stephen Garner said: “Those taking part in the trek that day were placed in serious danger and there was a clear failing by the school to adopt sensible precautions to ensure their safety. Excursions into mountains, particularly in winter, need to be led by people with the appropriate skills, knowledge and experience.”
Neither of the adults with the party had the appropriate skills, knowledge and experience to lead the trip and the school had failed to take advice from a suitably competent person when planning the excursion.