Page last updated at 12:01 GMT, Friday, 30 October 2009

Is Duke's scheme really 'deadly'?

Aaron Goss
Aaron Goss died on an expedition in 2006

It was the kind of gaffe one expects from the Duke of Edinburgh himself.

On a visit to Australia, Prince Edward suggested that part of the appeal of the award programme named after his father was the risk that "you could die doing this".

His remark - in response to a question from the Australian newspaper about the death in 2006 of a 17-year-old from Sydney who was taking part in the programme - has been widely condemned.

But what are the risks of taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, and is the possibility of death really part of its allure?

The prince had told the newspaper that the reaction of many young people to the fatality in Australia was "Wow, this is serious" - although he added that "obviously" no-one wanted the worst to happen.

A spokeswoman for the scheme insisted it had an "exemplary" safety record, adding that 182,000 participants successfully take part in expeditions each year - with some four million young people in the UK having done so since 1956.

Prince Edward

She said that there was "no record of a death of a DofE participant in the UK as a direct result of their DofE expedition in over 40 years".

Participants can earn a gold award under the scheme by taking part in an expedition - which, according to the DofE website, could range from "sailing along the Norfolk Broads to walking in Canada or horse riding in the Brecon Beacons".

But of course any outdoor activity involves some measure of risk - and there have been fatal incidents involving DofE candidates.

Prince Edward had been responding to a question about David Iredale, who died of severe dehydration in Australia's Blue Mountains after getting lost during a trek.

In 2006 the body of Aaron Goss, 17, from Rushden, Northants, was found three days after he went missing while swimming in a river in the Tena region of Ecuador during an expedition.

Aaron's father Geoff told the BBC that he believed Prince Edward was doing young people a disservice.

"They're embarking on an adventure that's got its excitement and its thrills, but not at the expense of safety," Mr Goss added.

"Certainly, that young lad who died on it in Australia didn't embark on it for the risk of death - that was blatantly obvious."

The Duke of Edinburgh scheme insists it has an "exemplary" safety record

And indeed, the idea that the scheme regularly involves death-defying challenges is considered laughable by Colin Hayes, 54, of Havering, east London.

He quit as an instructor on its expedition section because he believed it had become "sanitised" by a risk-averse culture.

Whereas in the past, he says, young people on the scheme would be split into groups according to the abilities - with more capable participants taking on greater challenges - Mr Hayes believes all ability groups are increasingly clustered together.

"There are two reasons for this - firstly, concern over litigation; secondly, to enable high numbers to pass looks good on the books," he says.

"Testing yourself by learning how to overcome challenges is hugely character-building.

"I think it's fair to say that Prince Edward is going a bit over the top."

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