A 14-year-old boy has died after becoming trapped underground during a school expedition. Joseph Lister's exit route appears to have been cut off when the cave flooded. He was discovered on Monday evening by a rescue team but his life could not be saved.
The case, which will renew fears over the safety of outdoor activity trips, is being investigated by North Yorkshire Police, the Health and Safety Executive and the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority.
The boy's parents, Martin and Paula Lister, his younger brother, Ben, and sister, Laura, were being comforted yesterday at their home in Steeton, near Tadcaster, as friends and teachers paid emotional tributes to the teenager .
Joe - as he was known to his friends - was on the first day of a school trip at Bewerley Park Outdoor Education Centre which promised a chance to try canoeing, hill walking, abseiling, an assault course and cross-country events.
A group of 100 fellow pupils from Tadcaster Grammar School had gone to the centre in Nidderdale, run by North Yorkshire County Council, accompanied by nine teachers.
Joe was among 11 pupils under the supervision of centre instructors, taken into Manchester Hole, a cave known for being an ideal introduction to the sport despite being prone to flooding.
The council refused to elaborate but initial reports suggested Joe became separated from the others after the party opted to return to the surface because of rising water levels.
Two teams from Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Team went down and discovered the boy in a flooded area 250 metres into the cave. Lifeless and suffering from acute hypothermia he was rushed to Harrogate District Hospital shortly after 5pm. He was declared dead five hours later, with his parents at his bedside.
Pupils were offered counselling yesterday as a "tremendous sense of grief" hung over the school. The headteacher, Geoff Mitchell, described Joe as a popular, inquisitive youngster, adding: "He would bounce along into your room, talk to you about things and he'd actually do something that was incredibly refreshing for young people, he would tell you the truth ... He was an absolute delight and our hearts go out to the family."
The death comes less than a fortnight after ministers published a draft "manifesto" for outdoor education, including a guarantee for every pupil to have the chance to attend at least one residential trip. The Education minister Lord Adonis said it would include recommendations to ensure safety.
Cynthia Welbourn, North Yorkshire council's corporate director of education, said the council still had confidence in the Bewerley Park centre, which offered high safety standards. "It's a very hard thing to lose a single individual ... On balance we continue to have the view that well-organised safe activities offer a great deal to young people ... We don't continue to provide outdoor activities lightly ... You can never say something is infallible."
A spokesman for the Department for Education said it would consider any lessons learnt from the investigation into Joseph's death."Tragedies such as this are very rare and millions of pupils are taken on visits every year safely."
The latest tragedy will reignite the debate over whether school trips are safe. Several accidents have been used to support the argument that schools should be cautious before undertaking such excursions.
Among those to lose their lives on school trips was Asif Bharucha, 17, who died after falling on to rocks in Cornwall in June last year during a clifftop walk. A year earlier Alex Foulkes, 17, drowned after slipping into a fast-flowing river in the Italian Alps.
In May 2002, Max Palmer, 10, drowned as he accompanied his mother, Patricia, an education support assistant, on a trip to the Lake District. A teacher had taken a group to a large beck used for "pool plunging" as part of an adventure weekend.
In 2000, Rochelle Cauvet, 14, and Hannah Black, 13, were swept to their deaths while river-walking in the Yorkshire Dales. In June 1999, Gemma Carter, 13, drowned in the sea during a trip to France.
However, ministers are supporting education outside the classroom with a manifesto to cut the bureaucracy facing schools trying to organise outdoor activities, while giving clear guidelines on safety.Reuse content