Page last updated at 14:28 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 15:28 UK

Safety call follows canoe death


Billie Clayton's father Ian gives his reaction to the verdict

A coroner has called for the rules governing canoe hire on rivers to be reviewed after a nine-year-old girl drowned in fast-flowing rapids.

Powys coroner Peter Maddox recorded a verdict of misadventure at an inquest into the death of Billie Clayton.

Billie was on the River Wye in Powys with her twin brother Edward and their father Ian when the incident happened at Glasbury in April 2006.

But the British Canoe Union said the sport had a good safety record.

Mr Clayton, 48, of Featherstone, West Yorkshire, and a presenter for ITV Yorkshire, had told the three-day hearing in Welshpool that their canoe overturned after he took a wrong turn while they tried to make their way downstream in Hay-on-Wye.

He said he was able to reach his son, but Billie was not found until it was too late.

Billie Clayton
In the 21st Century we ought to be able to balance risk, adventure and safety
Ian Clayton speaking outside the coroner's court

She was later pronounced dead at Hereford General Hospital.

During a lengthy summing-up, coroner Mr Maddox issued a seven-page summary of the evidence and findings which carried an 11-point list of proven facts for use by a future review body.

He described the present system as "too relaxed and potentially confusing".

He said he would write to the Adventure Activities Licensing Service (AALC) and the Health and Safety Executive, to which it is answerable, suggesting rules governing canoe hire undergo a full review.

Following the inquest, Mr Clayton criticised the canoe-hire industry.

"We live in times of increased awareness about health and safety issues yet it seems to me that any Tom, Dick, Harry or fly-by-night merchant can take money to hire out their canoe without regulation," he said.

'Balance risk'

"If I am a customer of a canoe-hire company, I'm expected to have some knowledge of how to keep safe, how to paddle and what to do in case of capsizing.

"Yet if I wish to hire out that canoe, I don't even have to know which end of the paddle to put into the water.

"Now, I don't believe you can ever have 100% safety and in physical activity there always has to be an element of risk for an adventure to be an adventure.

"But in the 21st Century we ought to be able to balance risk, adventure and safety."

After the inquest, the British Canoe Union and Welsh Canoeing Association said the pastime had a good safety record.

In a joint statement, they said: "As both a sport and recreation, canoeing boasts an exemplary heath and safety record together with a strong and flourishing activity base of participants covering all ages and abilities.

"The incident involving the death of Billie Clayton was extremely unfortunate and rare. It would be inappropriate to pass any comment in the absence of the coroner's conclusions.

"Much has been made of the absence of a licensing system for providers of canoe-hire equipment.

"It is impossible to conclude that such a system, if it existed, would have prevented the incident on the Wye.

"It should be remembered that, like any outdoor activity, canoeing is an assumed-risk sport, and that generally canoeing is as safe as the participant makes it."

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17 Jun 08 |  Mid Wales
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16 Jun 08 |  Mid Wales
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13 Jul 06 |  West Yorkshire

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