UK & World News

  • 18 July 2014, 22:20

Polar Bear Inquest: 'No Neglect' Over Death

A coroner has cleared an expedition company of neglect over its responsibilityto protect a boy mauled to death by a polar bear.

Ian Singleton, assistant coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon, returned a narrative verdict at the conclusion of a five-day long inquest into the death of Horatio Chapple.

Horatio died on an adventure holiday to the remote Svalbard islands in August 2011 with the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) - now renamed the British Exploring Society (BES).

The coroner found that although the group were missing items of equipment including parts of the tripwire alert system, BSES had not acted with "neglect".

He said: "I do not find that neglect is appropriate to be considered, as failure (by BSES) was not total or complete."

The Eton schoolboy, from Salisbury, Wiltshire, was sleeping in his tent when the bear went on the rampage, inflicting fatal injuries to his head and upper body on the morning of August 5.

Four others were hurt before the bear was shot dead at the camp site where the group, known as Chanzin Fire, had been staying.

Also injured during the incident were trip leader Michael "Spike" Reid, from Plymouth, Devon, Andrew Ruck, from Brighton, Patrick Flinders, from Jersey, and Scott Bennell-Smith, from St Mellion in Cornwall.

In his narrative verdict, Mr Singleton said: "On the 5th August 2011, Horatio Chapple was in a tent on a snow bridge near to the Von Post Glacier in Svalbard, Norway, as part of an expedition.

"A polar bear was able to enter the camp shortly before 7.30am undetected as the tripwire alarm system around the perimeter of the camp had failed to activate due to a supporting post more likely than not being knocked over by the bear which caused the cartridge to move or fall out of the mine without it detonating.

"Horatio emerged from his tent and was in the act of standing up when the bear reared up and slammed down on him with its paws pushing Horatio to the ground where the bear then mauled his head, face and neck causing the injury which lead to Horatio's death.

"At the time of the attack the polar bear was 24 years of age, hungry and in pain from bad teeth which more likely than not made it more aggressive and unpredictable."

The Salisbury inquest heard that the tripwire system provided by BSES worked "inconsistently" and had missing parts.

This meant it had to be set up in triangle shapes rather than the expected larger rectangles and that group members had modified the triggering mechanism using paper clips.

Also, the inquest was told that the group members were also expected to be kitted out with pen flares to scare off a bear.

But there were insufficient available and were only distributed with the group leaders.

The hearing was also told that Mr Reid attempted to shoot the bear with the group's Mauser 98K but his first attempts were unsuccessful.

This was because the safety catch mechanism ejected the rounds rather than firing them.

 

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