Boy, 17, died after drinking session on school physics trip

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The Independent Online

A 17-year-old schoolboy died after a drinking binge on a school trip to Germany when his room-mates failed to report his collapse as they "didn't want to get into trouble", an inquest heard yesterday.

Nicholas Ireland choked on his own vomit after drinking heavily in a bar and in his youth hostel bedroom while on a physics trip to Hamburg, Woking coroner's court was told. Nicholas, from Weybridge in Surrey, collapsed shortly after downing two tumblers of vodka in rapid succession. His roommates and a few others, all from King's College School in Wimbledon, south-west London, tried to revive him but failed.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, the coroner said Nicholas had died from asphyxia. In a stark warning about the dangers of alcohol he said: "Too much can mean the difference between a good time or extreme tragedy ... I think we all now see that rules do have a purpose and it may be that only when they are flouted does the purpose become apparent."

The inquest was told by one of the boys on the trip that the binge began when a group of pupils including Nicholas took advantage of a one-hour break to go to a local bar, where they consumed five rounds of drinks, a mixture of beer and cocktails. The drinking continued back at the youth hostel.

After Nicholas was sick and collapsed, concerns were raised about his well-being. One boy said: "I started to get dressed to go and ring for an ambulance but then it was decided an ambulance wasn't required." Asked by the coroner why this was, he said: "I suppose people didn't want to get into trouble."

The inquest also heard from another boy, who saw Nicholas lying unconscious on the floor. As a group, it was initially decided against calling for outside help, he said. "People are regularly significantly the worse for wear for alcohol and at the time it just seemed like another night out, really."

The boy said he returned to his room but one of Nicholas's room-mates came to fetch him a short while later, expressing concerns about the schoolboy's health, and they raced back to the room. The boy said: "He was going cold, he was going blue, every so often he made rasping, gurgling noises."

Graham Bennett, a teacher who was on the trip, said he was woken during the night of 1 April to be told that a boy was "ill". By the time he arrived at the bedroom, the three room-mates, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were sitting outside. Mr Bennett told the court: "I could see Nicholas's feet in the doorway, he was lying on his back and I could see the paramedics working on him." Eventually it became clear that Nicholas had died and the room was closed and sealed until police arrived.

Mr Bennett told the court he later learnt that tequila and vodka was consumed that night. He said: "They [his room-mates] said that Nicholas went to the bathroom, he fell over and became sick - that's when they claimed that they put him into the recovery position.

"After something like half an hour when they had listened to him in the recovery position, they could hear that his breathing was shallow and eventually became concerned that he was turning blue."