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Wednesday, 25 July, 2001, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
School failed to protect pupil

Woodbridge school was partly to blame for the accident
A Suffolk school did not sufficiently protect one of its pupils from his own irresponsible behaviour during a skiing trip, a court has ruled.

Keen sportsman Simon Chittock was left in a wheelchair after falling on his back while skiing off-piste at the resort of Kuhtai in Austria in April 1996.

At the High Court in London on Wednesday, Mr Justice Leveson said that Woodbridge School was 50% to blame for the accident.


The school are in breach of their duty of care because they failed to react appropriately to a demonstration of irresponsibility while skiing

Mr Justice Leveson
Mr Chittock, who was 17 at the time of the accident, was an intermediate skier when he took part in the school trip.

The trip itself was aimed mainly at junior boys and he had his parents' written consent to ski unsupervised.

But Mr Justice Leveson said that Mr Chittock, now 22, of Clapham, south-west London, was travelling too fast and was out of control.

He added that he failed to pay attention to the topography, the presence of a warning sign and the fact that slower moving skiers were in front of him.

'Dangerous' behaviour

But the judge said the school was equally to blame because of its failure, the day before, to respond adequately to another occasion when Mr Chittock skied off-piste in circumstances he knew he should not have done.

On that occasion a furious teacher, who had already reprimanded him for skiing off-piste, told him off but did not remove his ski pass.

The teacher, Andrew Jackson, later agreed during the trial that Mr Chittock's behaviour was "sheer stupidity and very dangerous".

skiers
The accident happened during a skiing trip
The judge rejected an argument that to tell Mr Chittock off was within the reasonable range of decisions that a teacher acting in the place of a parent should have reached.

He said: "After all, this was a deliberate breach of instruction, and as Mr Jackson also accepted, demonstrated Mr Chittock could not be trusted."

Mr Jackson, who organised the trip, also acknowledged that the boys would have perceived the trip as an adventure.

Having gained confidence, they would be likely to assume that they could do more than their technical skills justified.

The judge said: "The school are in breach of their duty of care because they failed to react appropriately to a demonstration of irresponsibility while skiing."

He emphasised that he generally had a high opinion of Mr Chittock.

Refused permission

He said: "It is abundantly clear that he is doing the best he can in the difficult circumstances he now finds himself."

In regard to Mr Jackson and the other staff, he said: "Nobody should read into this judgement any suggestion that one of them was cavalier or reckless ... they were not."

The school was ordered to pay two-thirds of Mr Chittock's legal costs and was refused permission to appeal against the judgement.

Compensation will be assessed at a later hearing.

Mr Chittock's father Ivan said: "It's clear that skiing is a dangerous activity and should only be undertaken with a great deal of care."

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See also:

06 Jul 01 | Mike Baker
Second thoughts about school outings
04 Jul 01 | Education
Teachers' tight guidelines for trips
25 Feb 01 | Europe
Ski coach safety defended
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