The School Canoe Tragedy: Canoe instructors were not qualified teachers: No official checks on centres offering activity holidays

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THE TWO instructors who led the ill-fated canoeing party out into Lyme Bay on Monday had only been involved in the sport for a short time and did not have teaching qualifications.

Karen Gardner, 21, and Anthony Mann, 23, who are recovering from their ordeal in hospital, held only one-star awards, the most basic type of certificate, from the British Canoe Union. They are instructors at the St Albans Centre, an adventure holiday centre at Lyme Regis.

The BCU, the sport's ruling body for training and other matters, has been pressing the Government to make it compulsory for adventure centre instructors to hold full qualifications.

Guidelines drawn up by the Department for Education recommend that instructors leading school parties have the relevant BCU qualifications, but these are not compulsory. 'As far as our records are concerned, they have not been trained or qualified by the BCU,' said Kevin Danforth, a spokesman for the body.

Jill Fryzer, spokeswoman for Active Learning and Leisure, which owns the centre in Lyme Regis, agreed that the two instructors did not have teaching certificates. 'The two individuals who went out had over two years' experience at the sport and held the BCU one-star award, which is on the way to their full certificate,' she said.

She added that James Wilkins, a qualified instructor, had been on the beach from which the party left Lyme Regis, but he was supervising a sailing class.

Mr Danforth said he would have expected a nine-strong party to have been led throughout by a senior instructor with a sea-canoeing certificate assisted by another instructor.

Those gaining the senior sea qualification must drill in several rescue scenarios up to an 'all in' rescue when everyone is capsized or out of their craft.

But he said that in the relatively safe weather conditions that prevailed yesterday it would not have been necessary to have told coastguards about the trip or to have had accompanying safety launches. A spokesman for Devon County Council said its guidelines state that a BCU- qualified instructor with a sea certificate 'should supervise that type of activity'.

Anybody can set up a centre providing adventure courses without any qualifications or checks. Safety campaigners have repeatedly expressed fears about the lack of official regulation.

Nobody even knows how many such centres there are in Britain. Estimates vary from 600 to 2,000 and there are no reliable accident figures.

The Consumers' Association, which has been campaigning for tighter legislation on activity holidays since 1975, carried out a survey of 10 centres 18 months ago. Two failed their tests because of poorly maintained buildings and lack of safety training.

The report concluded: 'It is still the case that literally anyone can set up a centre for over- eights even if completely unqualified. This is unacceptable.' There have been two major tragedies on school-organised holidays in recent years. In 1985 four pupils from Buckinghamshire were swept out to sea and drowned at Land's End, Cornwall. Five years ago four schoolboys from Maidenhead, Berkshire, died when they fell from a mountain during a skiing holiday in Austria.

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