Teacher took party on leaky boat in 'awful' weather, girl's inquest is told

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The Independent Online

A girl of nine died on a school sailing trip because of "awful" weather, inadequate super- vision and a leaking boat, an inquest was told yesterday. Elizabeth Bee drowned 18 months ago after a boat she was in with her twin sister, seven other children and a teacher capsized and threw them into Portsmouth Harbour.

Yesterday Portsmouth coroner's court was told that the group's leader, a 64-year-old science teacher, overruled concerns about sailing conditions that day.

Paul Dove insisted on taking out the group, from The Boundary Oak School in Fareham, Hampshire, on their first sailing trip in September 1999 on a smaller vessel because a rigid inflatable boat at the Royal Navy's Sailing Centre on Whale Island failed to start.

Mr Dove did not want the group to be restricted to rigging exercises on land so insisted they used a 14ft dory, a flat-bottomed motor-boat, in high winds, despite warnings from a colleague, Hanna Burman.

Detective Inspector Derek Stone of Hampshire police said Miss Burman "did not want the children to go sailing that afternoon" and she was "personally unhappy" with the adult supervision after two parent helpers failed to turn up.

All the pupils had lifejackets and had been given a safety briefing, but four boys leant over the bow of the 14-year-old boat, allowing water in over the sides, one boy fell overboard and another was stung by a jellyfish caught by Mr Dove.

The boat, which was not fitted with an emergency radio, stalled twice and in the second attempt to restart the motor it capsized, throwing the passengers into sheltered waters next to HMS Bristol.

Then, Mr Dove, who "was not a strong swimmer and could just hold his own treading water", failed to take a head count. He learnt of Elizabeth's disappearance only when her sister, Victoria, shouted her name and heard no reply. The missing girl was found under the capsized hull and given first aid but died in hospital.

Investigators from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch said the hull was not watertight and water had seeped in, weighing it down and making it unstable.

The inquest was also told Mr Dove was an experienced sailor with a yacht master's ocean certificate. But he was not trained to the standard expected by the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority and the school was not bound by Hampshire County Council's guidance on hazardous pursuits.

As an independent school, Boundary Oak is regulated only by a common-law duty of care and health and safety requirements.

The inquest is expected to last four days.