Page last updated at 15:48 GMT, Tuesday, 25 May 2010 16:48 UK

Council cleared over boy's cave drowning death in Dales

Joseph Lister
Joe went missing as his party made their way out of the cave system

A council has been found not guilty of breaching health and safety laws over the death of a boy who drowned on a school caving trip.

Joe Lister, 14, died when floodwater swept through Manchester Hole Cave in the Yorkshire Dales in November 2005.

He was one of 10 Tadcaster Grammar School pupils visiting the cave.

North Yorkshire County Council, which owns and runs Bewerley Park outdoor centre, said it was pleased. The Lister family said they were "disappointed".

The council had denied charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974).

The dreadful accident in which he died has been tragic for everyone involved, but overwhelmingly so for his family
North Yorkshire County Council

A jury at Leeds Crown Court took about nine hours to reach the not guilty verdicts.

Mr Justice Wilkie said it was "right and proper" that the jury concluded there was nothing which the council could have done to have avoided Joe's death.

He said: "I trust, however, that this will not be regarded as a reason for any complacency or self-congratulation by those involved in organising and delivering these activities.

"For the one thing this case has taught is that, however great the expertise, and however easy the cave, they can be unpredictable and dangerous."

'Traumatic experience'

The judge said he hoped the trial had provided a spur for the council to "maximise their understanding of the systems within which they work and to seek to ensure that the activities are delivered in as safe a way as possible".

After the hearing, Joe's family said they were "very disappointed" with the verdict.

They said: "It may be that the detailed examination in this court of the actions of North Yorkshire County Council will result in measures being taken to ensure that other young people are not exposed to the terrible and traumatic experiences described to the jury by those who were underground on that fateful day. We fervently hope so."

The entrance to the cave
The jury visited the cave at the start of the trial

In a statement the council extended its "profound sympathy" to Joe's parents.

It said: "The dreadful accident in which he died has been tragic for everyone involved, but overwhelmingly so for his family."

The council said it was "pleased the verdict confirms that the procedures and practices following in our outdoor education centres reflect all current legislation and guidance".

The court heard how the pupils went to the cave with three adults, including a 17-year-old volunteer instructor, a maths teacher and an instructor from the centre.

After some time in the cave the water began rising rapidly, forcing the youngsters to swim to safety.

Joe drowned in the cave and was later found by a rescuer with his head torch still on but without his Wellington boots.

The court was told the rapid rise in water was "unprecedented" and could not have been foreseen.



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