Expedition cleared of neglect after youth killed by polar bear

The bear savaged Horatio Chapple, 17, as he emerged from his tent. Picture: PA
The bear savaged Horatio Chapple, 17, as he emerged from his tent. Picture: PA
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A CORONER has cleared an exp­edition company of “neglect” in respect of its responsibility to protect a British schoolboy mauled to death by a polar bear in Norway.

Horatio Chapple, 17, from Salisbury, was killed by the bear as he emerged from his tent. while on an adventure holiday to Svalbard with the British Schools Exploring Society in 
August, 2011.

Ian Singleton, assistant coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon, yesterday returned a nar­rative verdict at the conclusion of a five-week inquest into his death on the Svalbard islands while with with the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) – now renamed the British Exploring Society (BES).

The coroner found that although the group was missing items of equipment, including parts of the tripwire alert system, BSES had not acted with “neglect”.

He said: “I do not find that neglect is appropriate to be considered, as failure by BSES was not total or complete.”

Four other people were hurt before the bear was shot dead at the camp site where the group had been staying.

Also injured were trip leader Michael “Spike” Reid, from Devon, Andrew Ruck, from Edinburgh, Patrick Flinders, from Jersey, and Scott Bennell-Smith, from Cornwall.

In his verdict, Mr Singleton said: “A polar bear was able to enter the camp shortly before 7:30am undetected as the tripwire alarm system around the perimeter of the camp had failed to activate due to a supporting post more likely than not being knocked over by the bear, which caused the cartridge to move or fall out of the mine without it detonating.

“Horatio emerged from his tent and was in the act of standing up when the bear reared up and slammed down on him with its paws pushing Horatio to the ground, where the bear then mauled his head, face and neck causing the injury which lead to Horatio’s death.”

The inquest heard the tripwire system provided by BSES worked “inconsistently” and had missing parts, meaning it had to be set up in triangle shapes rather than the expected larger rectangles and that group members had modified the triggering mechanism using paper clips.

The hearing also heard that Mr Reid attempted to shoot the bear with the group’s Mauser 98K, but his first attempts were unsuccessful because of the safety catch mechanism which ejected the rounds rather than firing them.

Mr Reid was praised for shooting the bear after reloading the rifle after he had been attacked and seriously injured.

In his ruling, Mr Singleton said he believed that the modifications made to the tripwire had improved the system.

Lizanne Gumbel, QC, representing the Chapple family, has criticised BSES for providing “unsafe” equipment..