Substantial penalty for YMCA centre after girl almost hanged

During the incident in July 2012, the girl slipped on the rope bridge and was left hanging for several minutes at the Fairthorne Manor site before being cut down. She fell into water below the bridge with one of the instructors that had been trying to free her. The girl was unconscious and flown by air ambulance to hospital where she was placed into an induced coma. She has since made a full recovery.

The jury at Portsmouth Crown Court was told that attempts to rescue the girl – who cannot be named for legal reasons – was ‘pretty shambolic’. The prosecution said it was ‘a matter of luck more than judgement she wasn't seriously hurt’. Judge Ian Pearson said the incident ‘could have been fatal’. Winchester City Council launched the prosecution on two health and safety grounds.

The jury found the YMCA Fairthorne Manor Group charity guilty of failing to ensure the girl’s safety but was unable to reach a verdict on a second charge that employees were not adequately trained. The YMCA Fairthorne Manor Group charity, that runs the site, is a member of the national YMCA Federation but is run independently. The girl was among a group of 40 children on a school trip to celebrate the end of year. The accident occurred on the ‘Burma Bridge’ activity and this piece of equipment has not been used since the accident and has been removed from the site.

Leader of Winchester City Council, councillor Caroline Horrill said the penalty, “reflects the seriousness with which the Courts consider Health and Safety failings, especially by organisations that have children and young people in their care. Thankfully, the child involved in this incident suffered no long term effects, but as a City Council we had a duty to ensure that the YMCA Fairthorne Group was held to account for the incident and that they accepted that proper procedures need to be followed. The public have a right to expect high standards of safety and training to be provided. Organisations who do not meet the required standards and who put people at risk need to accept that this comes with consequences.”

A statement said the charity was ‘disappointed’ with the verdict but ‘devastated’ that a child was involved. It added that the judge acknowledged the charity’s good safety record and that a risk assessment by Professor of Risk Management, David Ball, had found safety at the site to be at ‘an exceedingly high level’.

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