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Family lied to, risk assessments not done, Scout death inquest hears

Ben Leonard’s mother told a court it was five and a-half years too late and the treatment of her family had been ‘disgusting’ (Family Handout/PA)
Ben Leonard’s mother told a court it was five and a-half years too late and the treatment of her family had been ‘disgusting’ (Family Handout/PA)

A group scout leader was not aware of the need to carry out written risk assessments before a trip where a teenager fell 200 feet to his death, an inquest heard.

The hearing also heard the family of 16-year-old Ben Leonard were lied to as the Scout Association was worried about “reputational damage”.

Ben, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, an explorer scout with the 1st/4th Reddish Scouts, died from head injuries when he fell from cliffs while on an organised expedition on the Great Orme, North Wales on August 26 2018.

Brian Garraway was the group scout leader, though he was not on the trip.

Mr Garraway, who was also the training advisor for the Greater Manchester East, county association, told the inquest into Ben’s death at Manchester Civil Justice Centre, that he did carry out “effectively” the same process as a risk assessment but these were done verbally during meetings with other scout leaders.

He told the hearing: “I genuinely believe risk assessments were being undertaken on every activity, even if they were not written down.”

Ben Leonard inquest
Ben Leonard, 16, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, fell 200ft off a cliff while on a trip to North Wales in 2018 (Family Handout/PA)

Earlier, Steve Holloway, at the time the Scouts’ county commissioner for Greater Manchester East, agreed he felt “shame” about his involvement in the episode following the boy’s death.

The inquest heard suggestions the “approach” taken by the Scouts was to blame the boy for the tragedy amid worries over “reputational damage” to the organisation.

But Mr Holloway agreed he knew from the day of Ben’s death, that things had gone, “horribly wrong”.

Bernard Richmond KC, representing the Leonard family for law firm Fieldfisher, asked Mr Holloway: “You knew at the time that there were huge problems, didn’t you? You knew that there hadn’t been a risk assessment? You knew that there hadn’t been proper documentation? That there was no first aider?”

“Yes,” Mr Holloway replied.

Mr Holloway, who was not on the trip but was called in as the county commissioner, denied ever telling Ben’s family “people who try and take on the Scouts are never successful” and that “no one can touch the Scouts”.

Mr Holloway agreed he told others responsible for safety in the Scouts Association “don’t worry, they are not going to sue”.

But he said it was not “my place” to tell the family the truth about problems with the trip.

Mr Richmond continued: “So you were deliberately lying to Ben’s parents? And you were there as a representative of the Scouts?”

“Yes, ” Mr Holloway replied.

The witness agreed from the “very outset” that the Scouts were worried about reputational damage and they were trying to encourage the view the Scout leaders had done nothing wrong.

Mr Richmond added: “Are you proud of the Scouts?”

“No,” Mr Holloway said.

Jackie Leonard, the boy’s mother, tearfully told the hearing her family’s treatment by the Scouts was “disgusting” with initial suggestions the teenager was “wild” and his death his own fault.

Two previous inquests were scheduled and aborted until the current hearing – where the Scouts for the first time admitted responsibility and apologised for failings – some five-and-a-half years after Ben’s death.

The Scouts now admit there was a lack of a risk assessment, lack of appropriate supervision and a lack of instructions on the trip that allowed Ben and two other youngsters to venture out alone into a dangerous environment.

The inquest continues.