Scout Association apologises for death of teenager in 200ft fall, inquest told

Ben Leonard’s mother told a court it was five-and-a-half years too late and the treatment of her family had been ‘disgusting’.

Pat Hurst
Thursday 04 January 2024 18:36 GMT
Ben Leonard, 16, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, fell 200ft off a cliff while on a trip to North Wales (Family/PA)
Ben Leonard, 16, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, fell 200ft off a cliff while on a trip to North Wales (Family/PA) (PA Media)

The Scout Association has for the first time publicly apologised and accepted responsibility for the death of a teenager who fell on a trip – but his tearful mother told a court it was five-and-a-half years too late and the treatment of her family had been “disgusting”.

Ben Leonard, 16, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, was on an organised expedition with the Reddish Explorer Scouts on August 26 2018 when he suffered a serious head injury after falling 200 feet from cliffs on the Great Orme in North Wales.

His mother, Jackie Leonard, was the first witness at the inquest into his death, the third to be held after two earlier aborted hearings.

She became tearful after describing her “thoughtful, very funny, extremely witty” son, who joined the Beavers aged five and was an avid reader and film buff and planned to study TV and film at college.

While he was on the trip she got a call from the scout leader, Sean Glaister, the jury at the inquest at Manchester Civil Justice Centre heard.

I want to apologise again today on behalf of the Scout Association

Jim Agueros KC

Mrs Leonard said: “He said that Ben had a fall. I thought he might have hurt his leg or ankle. His words were, ‘They are working on him’. That’s what set me off. It didn’t sound good.

“He asked for our address. About an hour from when I spoke to him the police knocked on the door. I never worried about him when he went to Scouts. Never.”

Jim Ageros KC, representing the Scout Association, then stood and addressed the court.

He said: “I want to apologise again today on behalf of the Scout Association, it accepts it was at fault for Ben’s death and accepts its responsibility for it.

“Again, we want to apologise to you and your family for your tragic loss.”

Bernard Richmond KC, on behalf of Fieldfisher, the law firm representing the family, then questioned Mrs Leonard.

He asked if the Scout Association accepted responsibility and apologised at the first inquest, in February 2020.

“No,” she replied, saying the organisation was “defensive”.

Ben liked comic books and Marvel and Pride And Prejudice. No, he was not a wild child

Jackie Leonard

She agreed the Scout Association again said at the second aborted inquest that their position was they did not accept being at fault, nor at a pre-inquest hearing in December last year.

Mr Richmond continued: “So in front of the jury, for you to hear them apologise, how do you feel?”

Mrs Leonard said: “That it’s five-and-a-half years too late. That was all we ever wanted from the beginning.

She said the Scout Association had even tried to portray her son as a “wild child”.

She added: “Ben liked comic books and Marvel and Pride And Prejudice. No, he was not a wild child. He was not here to defend himself.”

Asked how she felt Ben and her family had been treated, she added: “Disgusting. Like we didn’t matter and like Ben didn’t matter.”

Ben and two friends had separated from the other Scouts and were not accompanied by any of the three Scout leaders on the trip when he fell from the cliff edge.

There was also no suitably qualified first aider on the trip.

Despite an air ambulance being called, along with paramedics, the teenager suffered massive head injuries and died the same day as his fall.

An initial inquest into his death was held in February 2020 at Ruthin Coroner’s Court but the jury was discharged by David Pojur, assistant coroner for North Wales east and central, who said the Scout Association had failed to provide the court with full information and “created a misleading impression”.

On Thursday at the start of the third inquest, Mr Pojur told the jury of five men and five women: “This is an inquest into a death and a tragic death of a boy who was 16 years of age.

“You will no doubt be wondering why it has taken so long from Ben’s death to this inquest today.”

Mr Pojur said he was not going to explain why the first and second inquests were aborted for legal reasons.

But he told the jurors that before reaching a conclusion on the teenager’s death they will have to consider a series of topics, including why no written risk assessment of the trip was made, the matter of no Scout leader on the trip having the requisite first aid qualification and how the boys were supervised during the trip.

The court heard the plan for the two-day trip was to set off from Stockport on Saturday morning, camp overnight and walk up Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, but this plan was abandoned due to bad weather.

Instead, on the second day of the trip, they went to walk the Great Orme, near Llandudno, but Ben and two friends took a different path from other Scouts, unsupervised by any Scout leaders.

Ben ended up on a 50cm ledge, which was an animal track, when he lost his footing, slipped and fell to his death.

The inquest, scheduled for four weeks and moved to Manchester from North Wales for the convenience of Ben’s family, was adjourned until Friday morning.

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