A SCHOOL has been handed a fine of £30,000 after a mountain rescue team had to be called out during a ‘dangerous’ hike in the Lake District.
Keswick Mountain Rescue Team were alerted to the party attempting to tackle Helvellyn in tough conditions.
Newcastle Magistrates heard that at least two members of the public tried to warn the teaching staff – who had no qualifications or experience in mountain leadership – about the treacherous conditions on the 3,117ft mountain, and to turn back on that day in March 2020.
However, the staff from Gateshead Chedar school decided to continue with their exercise to lead the 13 boys, aged 14 and 15, up England’s third-highest mountain which was covered in snow and ice.
The court was also told the teacher and an assistant leading the expedition had assessed a weather report alerting them to the dangers above the snow line, yet decided to go ahead. It is understood some of the pupils were wearing trainers and school shoes.
The party became lost during its descent, and encountered dangerous terrain with vertical faces and 20 metre drops.
One boy sustained ‘minor cuts’ after falling ‘several metres’ on ice. The hearing was also told that another teenager panicked and ‘ran off’, eventually being escorted down the mountain by an experienced hiker.
Led to safety off Helvellyn
After nightfall, the group were eventually located by Keswick Mountain Rescue Team and led to safety by cutting steps into the snow and ice to return to the recognised path.
The school, which was ordered to pay costs of £4,547 and a victim surcharge of £181, admitted “mistakes were made” on the trip and accepted the court’s judgement following prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
“The health and safety of our pupils and staff is always of the utmost importance,” read a statement from the school.
“We have conducted a thorough investigation into what happened two years ago and have made a number of improvements to our health and safety policy and practice.
“This includes a thorough review of our risk assessment policies and procedures.”
Stephen Garner, HM Inspector of Health and Safety at The Health and Safety Executive, highlighted the need for skills and experience of leaders in wintry mountain conditions.
“On this occasion, none of the party came to serious harm,” he said.
“However, the school was aware of the weather and ground conditions, but decided to proceed without the appropriate planning, equipment, or suitably trained leaders.
“Those taking part in the trek that day were placed in serious danger and there was a clear failing by the school to adopt sensible precautions to ensure their safety.
“Excursions into mountains, particularly in winter, need to be led by people with the appropriate skills, knowledge and experience.”