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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September, 2003, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
Teacher jailed over drowned boy
Max Palmer with mum Patricia
Tricia Palmer desperately tried to save her son Max
A teacher has been jailed for a year after he admitted the manslaughter of a 10-year-old boy who drowned while on a school trip to the Lake District.

Max Palmer, from Fleetwood, Lancashire, was swept away in a small flooded river near Glenridding in Cumbria.

At Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court on Tuesday, teacher Paul Ellis, 42, from Norbeck Road, in Thornton, near Blackpool, pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Max had been with older children on a trip with the Lancashire school where his mother, Tricia, worked.

She tried to save him, but was also swept 100 metres downstream.

Alistair Webster, prosecuting, said: "No doubt this represents a tragic end to the career of this defendant."

Mr Webster said that the tale of Max's death was a "harrowing" one."

Swept away

Max was a pupil at Shakespeare Primary in Fleetwood and was accompanying his mother - a teaching assistant at Fleetwood High School - on the trip for older pupils.

The youngster got into difficulties at a plunge pool at the beauty spot in May 2002.

His mother tried desperately to save him and was swept downstream with him by the strong current.

Both had to be pulled out of the water by a mountain rescue team but it was too late to save Max.

It struck me as unbelievably foolhardy and negligent
Mr Justice Morland
Passing sentence, Mr Justice Morland said: "The very tragic death of Max Palmer must have been a heart-rending experience to all the adults and children who witnessed it.

"His mother was among them and almost died trying to save her son."

The judge said he would be "failing in his duty" if he gave Ellis a suspended sentence.

The judge continued: "In my judgement the circumstances are so serious that I must pass an immediate prison sentence.

"When I first read the prosecution opening I considered that a three year prison sentence would be appropriate."

But Mr Justice Morland said that after listening to defence mitigation he was of the opinion that a three-year sentence would be "manifestly excessive".

Paul Ellis
Paul Ellis admitted manslaughter

He continued: "Having watched the video film taken of the beck at the time of the rescue of Max's mother it struck me as unbelievably foolhardy and negligent anyone would venture into that beck when it was in the state of full spate.

"And that any teacher or leader of an adventure group would allow any child to enter that beck or to plunge from the rocks above into the pool below."

In February, Ellis pleaded guilty to a health and safety offence of failing to take effective measures to prevent physical injury.

'Landmark case'

Outside court Max's father, Mark, said: "What we have got to remember here today is a 10-year-old boy, Max, has lost his life and we have to learn lessons over this so that it does not happen again.

"Today Paul Ellis received 12 months in prison. We have received a life sentence."

Detective Chief Inspector Bill Whitehead, of Cumbria Police, said he had not heard before of a teacher pleading guilty to such an offence and so described it as a "landmark case".

Mr Whitehead said he had some sympathy with Ellis and his family.

He said: "We were not dealing with a career criminal here but a schoolteacher who had made a severe error."

The BBC's Catherine Marston
"Ellis had pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Max Palmer"

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