Sheriff calls for review of activity centre laws after teenager's death

A SHERIFF has called for a comprehensive review of regulations governing activity centres for people under the age of 18 following an inquiry into the death of a teenage schoolgirl who died after jumping into a Scottish gorge.

Sheriff Johanna Johnston QC, says the review should be undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (H&SE) as soon as possible following the death of 15-year-old Laura McDairmant at a Galloway beauty spot nearly four years ago.

During a 24-day fatal accident inquiry at Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court, the sheriff was told that leaders at the Abernethy Trust's Barcaple Outdoor Centre at Ringford, near Castle Douglas, did not know that gorge jumping was taking place at the pool where Ms McDairmant plunged 31ft on to rocks and suffered horrific injuries to her face and neck.

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The sheriff was also told that gorge jumping was not governed by a national body and there was no qualification which could be gained to manage these activities.

She criticised the management at the time and said she had reached the view that outdoor activities at the Barcaple in the period from 2001 until the accident were not adequately managed.

She also said the operations director in place at the time of the accident, Andy Pratt, was not qualified in outdoor activities and left outdoor activities under the control of instructors.

Sheriff Johnston said the cause of the accident was the use of the pool, that the site was unsafe and should not have been used for gorge jumping, and that the trust had failed to carry out a proper risk assessment.

She also heard that Dumfries and Galloway Council did not know that gorge jumping was being run and that regulations extended their responsibilities to activities conducted outwith the boundaries of the centre.

She said: "There is no obligation on a provider to advise anyone about the provision of out of scope activities.

"As the circumstances at Barcaple in July 2006 demonstrate, this allows for the situation where the licensing authority and the enforcement authority do not know that an activity is being undertaken."

The teenager fell on to the rocks at the Grey Mare's Tail Burn, near Newton Stewart, while taking part in gorge jumping in July 2006.

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Laura, of Jesmond House, Wetheral Pasture, Carlisle, was on an adventure holiday at Barcaple outdoor centre which she had attended before.

Ms McDairmant was airlifted to Dumfries Infirmary after the accident but died 24 hours later from her injuries.

Sheriff Johnston called for all activities at centres to be licensed without delay and for the H&SE to issue clear guidance to local authorities on the extent of their statutory responsibilities for those under 18.

She also said the introduction of gorge jumping at the pool where Laura fell followed upon an error of judgment by a former member of the Barcaple staff.

The sheriff said that there had been no proper risk assessment for the pool where Laura died and that the pool had been used as a summer activity from 2002 until Laura's death.

Sheriff Johnston said she had reached the view that outdoor activities at the Barcaple in the period from 2001 until the accident were not adequately managed.

Sheriff Johnston said the Abernethy Trust, which was fined 16,000 in October 2008 for breaching health and safety regulations, addressed the inadequacies in the management and safety systems in the new policies and procedures they had adopted and now operated.