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Boy, 16, who fell to death during scouts’ trip was unlawfully killed, jury finds

<span>Ben Leonard died while on a trip with the Reddish Explorer scouts from Stockport on 26 August 2018.</span><span>Photograph: PA</span>
Ben Leonard died while on a trip with the Reddish Explorer scouts from Stockport on 26 August 2018.Photograph: PA

A 16-year-old scout was unlawfully killed when he fell to his death during a trip to a rugged beauty spot in north Wales, a jury has concluded.

Ben Leonard from Stockport, Greater Manchester, became separated from his group and fell about 60 metres (200ft) at Great Orme in Llandudno, suffering a head injury.

Assistant coroner David Pojur, who oversaw the inquest, has referred the Scout Association and one of its employees – who cannot be named for legal reasons – to North Wales police to investigate conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. No further details on that matter can be reported.

Ben died while on a trip with the Reddish Explorer scouts from Stockport on 26 August 2018. He and two friends took a different path from other scouts, unsupervised by any leaders, who had “lost” the trio on the Orme headland.

Ben ended up on a ledge that was 50cm (20in) wide, and which was used by animals as a track, when he lost his footing, slipped and fell.

After a two-month inquest in Manchester, a jury found Ben was unlawfully killed by the most senior scout leader on the trip and an assistant scout leader, and this was contributed to by neglect by the Scout Association. The law prevents inquest juries from naming any individual in conclusions.

At the beginning of the inquest, the third after two were previously halted, the Scout Association for the first time publicly apologised and accepted responsibility for Ben’s death.

His mother, Jackie Leonard, told the hearing the apology was five-and-a-half years too late and the treatment of her family had been “disgusting”. She said it was “like we didn’t matter and like Ben didn’t matter”.

Leonard described her son as a “thoughtful, very funny, extremely witty” boy who was an avid reader and film buff and planned to study television and film at college. She said the Scout Association had tried to portray him as a “wild child”, taking a “defensive” attitude.

Bernard Richmond KC, representing Ben’s family, told the hearing his life could have been saved but for the “basic failure of care” to give simple instructions about areas to avoid and routes that were safe.

One of the scout leaders agreed with Richmond that the Scout Association never monitored his activities or ensured any training he was supposed to undergo had ever been done.

Richmond asked: “They have hung you out to dry, haven’t they?”

The witness replied: “Yeah. This could have happened to any of the leaders on any of the trips we went on.”

Lawyers for the Scout Association and several individuals asked for the ban on reporting the referral to the police to be extended indefinitely but this was refused by the coroner after objections by PA Media news agency, the BBC and the North Wales Pioneer newspaper.

After the conclusion, the Scout Association said: “We take today’s conclusion extremely seriously. We want to restate our wholehearted apology to Ben Leonard’s family and our deepest sympathies continue to be with his family and friends.

“We are committed to learning. The jury heard how in this instance the local leaders did not follow our safety rules and processes. We have already made many changes to our risk assessments, safety rules, training and support we give our volunteers.

“We emphatically refute allegations made in court about any criminal action on behalf of the Scout Association.”