Patten attacked over activity centre safety: Parents of canoe death victims angry over 'buck-passing'

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The Independent Online
THE PARENTS of four teenagers who died during a school canoeing trip have reacted with 'dismay' to the Government's rejection of calls for the regulation of outdoor activity centres.

John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, yesterday outlined a four-point plan to improve safety standards in response to the deaths in Lyme Bay, Dorset, last March, but his announcement brought an angry reaction.

The parents of Rachel Walker, Claire Langley, Simon Dunne and Dean Sawyer, sixth-form pupils from Southway school in Plymouth, Devon, who died after their canoes capsized during a visit to an activity centre, said the plan would do nothing to improve safety standards.

A Devon County Council inquiry into the disaster had called for a compulsory registration scheme for such centres, but this was rejected by Mr Patten. Instead, he welcomed moves to set up a voluntary accreditation system.

He announced an immediate survey by the Health and Safety Executive, the publication of inspection reports on centres and the issuing of new guidance to schools on the lessons which could be drawn from the tragedy. School governing bodies would also be reminded of their legal duty to ensure the safety of the children in their care.

'It is vital that all concerned take every appropriate step to avoid any recurrence of the tragic events in Lyme Bay last March,' Mr Patten said.

The announcement was greeted with criticism. A statement released by solicitors acting for the parents expressed their 'dismay' and said they believed it would not improve safety standards.

The parents called for a meeting with Mr Patten and claimed that he had thrust the onus back on to schools that did not have the resources to comply with their duties.

'The minister has failed to shoulder the responsibility which should be on his department and in no way do the grieving parents feel that he has reacted adequately to this tragedy,' the statement said.

Carolyn Langley, Claire's mother, said: 'We are extremely angry and disgusted. We are no further on than we were nine months ago. Mr Patten has just passed the buck to schools and taken no responsibility whatsoever.'

Denis Walker, father of Rachel, said he and the other parents would press for the meeting that Mr Patten promised them during their last talks shortly after the tragedy.

'I for one will be telling him that he has shirked his duty to pupils. You have to ask yourself with these regulations: what's going to happen if someone gets killed?' he said.

David Jamieson, the Labour MP whose Plymouth Devonport constituency includes the homes of the four who died, condemned the Government's 'irresponsibility' in ignoring the parents' safety suggestions.

He said the new measures were 'woefully inadequate' and claimed that they would leave children at risk.

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