UK

Scouts referred to police as inquest finds boy was unlawfully killed

Ben Leonard, 16, died during a Scouts trip in 2018.

Ben Leonard died after falling 200ft off a cliff while on a trip to North Wales in 2018
Ben Leonard Ben Leonard died after falling 200ft off a cliff while on a trip to North Wales in 2018 (Family Handout/PA)

The Scout Association has been referred to police for investigation during an inquest which concluded a teenager who died on a Scout trip was unlawfully killed.

Ben Leonard, 16, suffered a serious head injury when he fell about 200ft at Great Orme in Llandudno, North Wales.

He died while on a trip with the Reddish Explorer Scouts from Stockport, Greater Manchester, on August 26 2018.

Ben and two friends took a different path from other Scouts, unsupervised by any Scout leaders, who had “lost” the trio on the Orme.

Ben ended up on a 50cm ledge, which was an animal track, when he lost his footing, slipped and fell to his death.

Following a two-month inquest at Manchester Civil Courts of Justice, a jury found Ben was unlawfully killed by the most senior Scout leader on the trip, and an assistant Scout leader, and this was contributed to by neglect by The Scout Association.

The law prevents inquest juries from naming any individual in conclusions.

During the inquest the Scout leader on the trip, Sean Glaister, declined to answer a series of questions from Ben Richmond KC, lawyer for Fieldfisher, the law firm representing Ben’s family. Mary Carr was named as the assistant scout leader on the trip.

David Pojur, assistant coroner for North Wales east and central, has referred The Scout Association and an employee, who cannot be named by court order, to North Wales Police to investigate for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. No further details on that matter can be reported.

Jurors were not told of the police referral and the media had been ordered not to report it until the jury reached their conclusions.

Lawyers for The Scout Association and several other individuals applied to extend the ban indefinitely on reporting of the police referral.

The application was refused by the coroner following an application by PA news agency, the BBC and The North Wales Pioneer newspaper.

Around 500,000 young people and 145,000 adult volunteers take part in Scouting projects and activities each week, according to the association’s own figures.

At the beginning of the inquest, the third after two previous inquests were aborted, The Scout Association for the first time publicly apologised and accepted responsibility for Ben’s death.

But his tearful mother, Jackie Leonard, told the hearing their apology was five-and-a-half years too late and the treatment of her family had been “disgusting”.

She added: “Like we didn’t matter and like Ben didn’t matter.”

She described her son as a “thoughtful, very funny, extremely witty” boy who joined the Beavers aged five and was an avid reader and film buff and planned to study TV and film at college.

But Mrs Leonard said The Scout Association had tried to portray her son as a “wild child”, taking a “defensive” attitude and until their apology had never accepted being at fault.

The inquest also heard Ben’s family were lied to as the Scout Association was worried about “reputational damage”.

An initial inquest into the youngster’s death was held in February 2020 at Ruthin Coroner’s Court but the jury was discharged by Mr Pojur, who said the Scout Association had failed to provide the court with full information and “created a misleading impression”.

Ben’s mother described her son as ‘thoughtful, very funny, extremely witty’ and said he planned to study TV and film at college
Ben Leonard inquest Ben’s mother described her son as ‘thoughtful, very funny, extremely witty’ and said he planned to study TV and film at college (Family Handout/PA)

The inquest jury heard Ben’s family were told, “people who try and take on the Scouts are never successful” and that “no one can touch the Scouts” despite it being apparent from the day of Ben’s death, that things had gone “horribly wrong”.

Bernard Richmond KC, told the hearing Ben’s life could have been saved but for the “basic failure of care” to give simple instructions about areas to avoid and routes that were safe on the Orme.

Scout leader Mr Glaister declined to answer questions after being warned by the coroner he did not have to answer, if the answer was to incriminate himself.

The inquest jury heard suggestions Mr Glaister had believed another man, Brian Garraway, group Scout leader, was also going on the trip, only to discover he was not present when he got to their campsite in Snowdonia.

It meant no suitably qualified first aider was present for the trip, which broke Scouts rules for expeditions, and the trip should not have gone ahead.

Mr Glaister agreed he had not warned any of the Scouts, including Ben, not to leave the designated paths up the Orme and he was not aware of the dangers of the cliff edges.

The witness agreed The Scout Association never monitored his activities or ensured any training he was supposed to undergo had ever been done.

Mr Richmond added: “They have hung you out to dry, haven’t they?”

“Yeh,” Mr Glaister said, “This could have happened to any of the leaders on any of the trips we went on.”

Jennie Price, chairwoman of The Scout Association Board of Trustees, said: “We take today’s conclusion extremely seriously. We want to restate our wholehearted apology to Ben Leonard’s family and our deepest sympathies continue to be with his family and friends.

“As an organisation we are committed to learning. The jury heard how in this instance the local leaders did not follow our safety rules and processes. As a result of Ben’s tragic death in 2018, we have already made many changes to our risk assessments, safety rules, training and support we give our volunteers.”

She added: “Keeping young people safe from harm remains our number one priority at scouts. We emphatically refute allegations made in court about any criminal action on behalf of The Scout Association.”