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Thursday, 14 December, 2000, 14:41 GMT
Death group guide 'not to blame'
Paul Hopkins and Emma Ray
Paul Hopkins and Emma Ray were killed
A mountain guide has been cleared of blame for the deaths of four venture scouts in one of Scotland's worst avalanche tragedies.

A fatal accident inquiry report by Sheriff Kenneth Forbes said Roger Wild was not responsible for the accident on Aonarch Mor, near Ben Nevis, in December 1998.

Emma Ray, 29, her boyfriend Paul Hopkins, 28, both from Wilmington, Kent, Matthew Lewis, 28, and Ian Edwards, 30, both from Dartford, Kent, all died.

Sarah Finch, 27, from Hartley, Kent, and Stephen Newton, 26, from Dartford, Kent, along with Mr Wild, were found alive by rescuers after spending 15 hours buried under 3ft of compacted snow.

This is basically what we were hoping for..... it was just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time

John Ray, father of Emma
In his report, published on Thursday, Sheriff Forbes said Mr Wild, 47, had been "highly regarded" by witnesses for his qualifications and expertise.

He said the group had been "fully aware of the risks" of climbing in Scottish mountains during the winter.

Sheriff Forbes added: "The general picture was that the participants were well equipped not only in terms of protective clothing but also mentally to take on the elements that the Scottish winter which ... can be second to none in intensity."

The sheriff also said there was no evidence that Mr Wild had triggered the avalanche when he used an ice axe to test for the stability of snow.

He described the incident as an "unfortunate and sad accident".

Avalanche mystery

The sheriff formally found that each of the four victims of the avalanche had died of asphyxiation.

The report made no finding on the reason for the avalanche.

Roger Wild
Roger Wild: "Experienced guide"
The sheriff defended the inquiry itself which some of the victims' families had said was unnecessary.

"One of the purposes of the inquiry was to enlighten not only the relatives of the deceased as to the cause of the deaths, but also the public at large as to whether any reasonable steps could or should have been taken whereby the deaths might have been avoided so that lessons may be learned," said Sheriff Forbes.

The Fort William Sheriff Court hearing last month heard survivors tell of how they had been buried under the snow.

The victims had been just one hour into their two day mountain training course when tragedy struck.

Avalanche risk

Mr Wild told the hearing he was aware there was a warning of "considerable" avalanche risk but he had visited the area at least half a dozen times before when the risk was the same or greater and had had no problems.

Aonach Mor
The incident happened on Aonach Mor
He had told Sheriff Forbes he was showing the six friends how to use an ice axe when he became aware of a thin layer of snow coming down and covering his boots.

Mr Wild, from Fort William, declined to comment after the ruling.

But John Ray, whose daughter Emma died, said: "This is basically what we were hoping for.

"I have been up to see the site and thought it was just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Hamish Brown, who represented Paul Hopkins' parents, Ken and Bobbie, said his clients had not yet had time to digest the ruling.

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28 Nov 00 | Scotland
Climbers tell of fatal avalanche
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