Polar bear killing of Wiltshire teenager: Inquest verdict date set

Horatio Chapple

Horatio Chapple

First published in News
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A coroner will deliver his conclusions at the inquest of an teenager from Wiltshire, mauled to death by a polar bear, next week.

Ian Singleton, assistant coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon, adjourned the week-long hearing at Salisbury until 3pm on Friday, July 18.

Horatio Chapple, 17, a pupil at Eton, was on an adventure holiday to the remote Svalbard islands in August 2011 with the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) when he died.

The teenager, from Salisbury, was sleeping in his tent when the bear went on the rampage, inflicting fatal injuries to his head and upper body.

Four others were hurt before the bear was shot dead at the camp side 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.

Mr Singleton decided to adjourn the hearing after listening to legal submissions, including from Lizanne Gumbel QC, representing the Chapple family.

Ms Gumbel, in submissions on Thursday and Friday morning, told the coroner Horatio's parents, GP Olivia and surgeon David Chapple wished him to consider the issue of "neglect" in his conclusion.

During the inquest, Ms Gumbel has criticised BSES for providing "unsafe" equipment, particularly the tripwire system which had missing parts and had been modified using paperclips by the expedition group.

The tripwire failed to go off prior to the bear attack although the expedition leaders pointed out during the hearing that Norwegian police had suggested this was caused by the bear knocking the post over rather than not triggering the wire.

Ms Gumbel said the tripwire system was designed to protect chickens from foxes, not a campsite from a polar bear.

She said: "The fact that this child Horatio was in a campsite which was not protected was down to the society (BSES). The equipment that was sent out was not the suitable type of equipment in the first place."

In an independent report into the bear attack by High Court judge Sir David Steel, commissioned by BSES, he criticised the society for its reliance on the tripwire system.

He said that a bear watch should be used instead and also called for an overhaul of rifle training.

Sir David concluded: "In future a bear watch must become the norm for expeditions to Svalbard. There needs to be complete review of available trip wire systems but they should be treated only as a secondary protection device. There needs to be a rigorous upgrade of rifle training."

Lieutenant General Peter Pearson, from Earlswood, Chepstow, Monmouthshire, who is executive director of the British Exploring Society (BES) - the new name for BSES - said that the organisation had adopted all of the recommendations made by Sir David in his report.

He added that he had accepted that the equipment was unsatisfactory and explained that the BES was working with a company to build a new system which was being trialled in Greenland.

Mr Pearson said: "In principle, we have accepted in the future it will be safer if there is a wire and a bear watch."

He added: "This is not a fly-by-night organisation, we tasked a High Court judge to carry out an independent inquiry which was not required, we are absolutely an open book."

The inquest previously heard the polar bear which killed Horatio was elderly and had been suffering from worn-down teeth, which would have led to it becoming stressed and behaving "more aggressively and unpredictably".

Mr Singleton said a post-mortem examination of the bear's mouth found worn down teeth caused by bad alignment, a cavity, swollen and red gums and peritonitis in several teeth.

"It's probable it affected the bear's ability to gain food and if the bear is in pain it would have increased levels of stress causing it to behave more aggressively and unpredictably than it would otherwise," he said.

Examination of the teeth showed the bear was around 24 years old, while an independent report produced by High Court judge Sir David Steel on behalf of BSES said it weighed 250kg, rather than the typical 400kg.

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