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Friday, 8 March, 2002, 17:05 GMT
Teachers blamed for school trip deaths
Rochelle Cauvet and Hannah Black
Rochelle Cauvet and Hannah Black died in the river
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Kevin Bocquet
BBC North of England correspondent
line

It was one of the highlights of the school year, a holiday in the Yorkshire Dales for 40 pupils and staff from Royds School near Leeds.

But it ended in tragedy, with the deaths of two teenage girls from drowning.

On the day of the accident, in October 2000, some of the children went walking on the Dales.

As they approached the Stainforth Beck, a fast-running rocky stream which runs into the River Ribble, they decided to go river-walking.

It was a foolhardy trip.

Dave Gallivan
Mountain rescue expert
This involved stepping into the icy waters of the Beck and walking upstream, against the current, over slippery rocks.

Although the children were under the supervision of two teachers, no attempt was made to stop them.

The children had walked less than 70 metres through the water, when Rochelle Cauvet, 14, lost her footing.

She was laughing as she tried to regain her balance, but was quickly swept away.

Rescue attempt

One of the teachers, Andrew Miller, head of religious studies at Royds, ran down the river bank.

Leaning out over the water, he grabbed Rochelle with one hand, and a tree branch with the other.

He tried to pull the girl out of the stream, but she slipped from his grasp.

Rescuer walking in River Ribble
Rescuers trawled the river in search of the two girls
Then he looked on helplessly as another girl, Hannah Black, 13, was also swept past him by the powerful rush of water.

A massive search was launched, involving police divers, helicopters and mountain rescue teams.

Rochelle's body was recovered the following day. But more than two weeks were to pass before Hannah Black's body was found. Both girls had drowned.

At the inquest into their deaths, Mr Miller was praised for his efforts to save the girls.

Blame

But both Mr Miller and the other teacher supervising the trip, Liz Schofield, were criticised for their part in the tragedy.

And the school and education authorities which authorised the trip also came in for criticism.

Dave Gallivan, a mountain rescue expert involved in the search, said weather conditions had been atrocious. The water level in Stainforth Beck had been much higher than usual.


I've seen some stupid things, but walking through a river in full flood defies belief.

Ronald Charnley
River bailiff
"It was a foolhardy trip," he said.

"It should never have taken place. All the signs were there that conditions weren't right. They should have stayed on the bus."

Ronald Charnley, a river bailiff responsible for the area which covers Stainforth Beck, said that while school parties should be encouraged to visit the Dales, they should do so under the correct supervision.

He said: "It was highly irresponsible to let children walk in the river that day. It was in a dangerous state.

"Those children should have been in the care of experienced local people, who knew the terrain and knew the dangers. Those schoolteachers weren't qualified to supervise that trip.

Guidelines

"I've seen some stupid things, but walking through a river in full flood defies belief."

The two teachers in charge of the trip are employed by Leeds City Council, who produce their own guidelines on health and safety of children undertaking outdoor activities.

In his evidence to the inquest, Mr Miller said he did not know those guidelines existed. Nor had he seen another set of guidelines produced by the Department of Education.

He told the inquest that as an experienced fell runner, he had felt qualified to supervise the trip. He now realised he'd been wrong.
Royds school
School staff were unaware that council health and safety guidelines existed

The assistant North Yorkshire coroner John Sleightholme told the inquest jury: "It may be as you listen to the evidence, you are of the view that a number of persons, from the director of education downwards, flowing through the headmaster and governing body to the head of the lower school, to the co-ordinator, even down to the teachers, have not performed quite as well as liked.

"They have failed in certain respects or could have done differently."

The coroner said he would be writing to the relevant authorities to ensure a similar tragedy did not happen again.

Meanwhile the parents of Rochelle Cauvet and Hannah Black are considering their next legal move.


Click here to go to Leeds
See also:

27 Feb 02 | England
Teacher saw girl washed away
21 Feb 02 | England
Rules would have banned fatal walk
19 Feb 02 | England
River inquest told of boy's escape
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