Brighton expedition leader’s employer cleared of neglect over polar bear death

Posted On 19 Jul 2014 at 11:58 am

The company that employed a Brighton expedition leader did not act with neglect, a coroner said as he gave his verdict on the death of a boy mauled by a polar bear.

Ian Singleton, the assistant deputy coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon, accepted that parts of a tripwire alert system were missing.

But he said that it was not appropriate to consider the failings of the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) – since renamed the British Exploring Society (BES) – as neglect.

Mr Singleton, recording a narrative verdict at the end of a five-day inquest into the death of 17-year-old Horatio Chapple, said that the failings were not total or complete.

The BSES employed Andy Ruck, of Chichester Drive East, Saltdean, as the mountain leader for the expedition to the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago.

Andy Ruck

Andy Ruck

Mr Ruck was also mauled by the polar bear during the attack in August 2011 along with fellow expedition leader Mike Reid, known as Spike.

Two other boys were injured in the incident that led to the death of Horatio Chapple, an Eton schoolboy who lived in Salisbury.

Mr Ruck, who now lives in Edinburgh, told the inquest in Salisbury how he saw the polar bear attack Mr Reid.

His colleague tried to shoot the bear with a rifle but, although he pulled the trigger three or four times, it didn’t fire any bullets. It just spat them out on to the ground.

Mr Ruck, who had tried unsuccessfully to fire a pen flare, said that the bear attacked Mr Reid. Mr Ruck then charged at the bear, shouting and throwing rocks at its face.

The bear then attacked Mr Ruck, knocking him to the ground. It swiped Mr Ruck’s face with its claw and tried to bite his head, leaving him with serious injuries.

The Svalbard authorities investigated the incident and ruled that there had been no negligence.

Mr Ruck, who was 27 at the time, is a travel writer and experienced expedition leader who was leading a group of 11 youngsters with Mr Reid.

He had previously been to Svalbard only once – on a similar expedition as a teenager nine years earlier in 2002.

He learnt some of his basic outdoor and survival skills as a member of the 42nd Brighton (Saltdean) Scout Troop. His father Dick devised an animated series of lessons in tying knots.

In 2011 Mr Ruck and his fellow expedition leaders had to cope with a shortage of parts for the tripwire system.

The system was used as a way of alerting groups to the presence of a bear when they were camped out for the night.

In a report published earlier this month, the retired High Court judge Sir David Steel said: “The tripwire system was defective and unfit for its purpose.”

It made the case stronger for having a bear watch at nights. Sir David acknowledged concerns about tiredness giving rise to a greater likelihood of injury the next day but recommended that bear watches become the norm.

He said: “Even the most experienced and level-headed leader would have been tested by the sudden arrival of a starving bear in the camp at night.”

He said that Mr Ruck and Mr Reid were relatively inexperienced when it came to the risks associated with Svalbard but added: “I have no doubt that the two leaders were entirely suitable for the appointment.”

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