04th Mar, 2022 Read time 4 minutes

Gateshead School fined £30,000 after mountain rescue called to save children

Gateshead Chedar Primary School took pupils on a hike up Helvellyn, in the Lake District in freezing temperatures despite warnings.

The school was fined after one pupil was injured and another went missing during the trek in the Lake District, the 6.5 mile long hike was undertaken despite weather warnings and some of the pupils wearing only school uniform.

Newcastle Magistrates’ Court heard that on 5 March 2020, a collection of thirteen Year 10 pupils from The Gateshead Cheder were on an organised trip to Helvellyn in the Lake District, led by one teacher and a teaching assistant. Weather conditions were cold and icy on the day of the trip and despite the school reviewing the Lake District Weatherline Report, which stressed the dangers to those ascending above the snow line,  the trip went ahead as planned.

Despite the winter conditions many of the school children did not have suitable equipment, a number of them were wearing school shoes and school trousers; and others were wearing trainers. They also had no climbing equipment, such as crampons, ropes or ice axes, and no emergency safety equipment such as torches, compasses, biffy bags, tents or foil blankets. In winter conditions it is essential that hikers wear full winter clothing and carry appropriate equipment.

The adults leading the trip on the day had no formal qualifications in mountain leadership or any experience of mountain environments in winter conditions. The party had a map but relied on a smartphone app as a compass and torch.

During their ascent, it is heard that at least two separate members of the public warned the Gateshead Cheder party to turn back, but the group continued their ascent and reached the summit of Helvellyn without incident. However, as the party made their way back down, they unknowingly ventured off the chosen path and began traversing the west face of Helvellyn which is made up of steep terrain featuring vertical rock faces of up to 20 metres in height.

Whilst on the descent, one of the pupils slipped on the ice and fell several metres sustaining minor injuries. This resulted in another student panicking and running down the mountain away from the group. The two members of staff remained with the injured pupil and the other school children, by this time, it had begun to get dark and the temperature was dropping.

The party were eventually located and rescued by the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team (KMRT), who cut steps into the snow to assist the party back to the path and down the mountain. The other pupil was lucky enough to make it back down the mountain and was found by members of the public.

The Gateshead Cheder Limited of Bede House, Tynegate Precinct, Sunderland Road in Gateshead pleaded guilty to breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of The Health and Safety at Work (etc) act 1974. The school was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £181 and costs of £4,574.90.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Stephen Garner said:

“On this occasion, none of the party came to serious harm, however, the school were aware of the weather and ground conditions, but decided to proceed without the appropriate planning, equipment, or suitably trained leaders. 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. If a school does not have access to the necessary expertise in house, then licensed Adventure Activities providers are available to manage the technical aspects of this type of trekking activity.”

In addition: “This incident was entirely avoidable. HSE recognises the benefits of outdoor learning activities including those involving hiking or trekking in mountain environments, however schools need to take sensible and proportionate measures to control the risks involved. This trip should not have gone ahead without such measures in place.”

A spokesman for the school said: “The health and safety of our pupils and staff is always of the utmost importance. We have clear and robust safety measures in place but, on this occasion we appreciate that mistakes were made.

“As such, we fully accept the Court’s judgement. We have conducted a thorough investigation into what happened two years ago and have made a number improvements to our health and safety policy and practice. This includes a thorough review of our risk assessment policies and procedures.”

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