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Family of polar bear attack boy urge improved safety checks

The parents of a schoolboy killed by a polar bear during an adventure holiday to a remote area of Norway have called for new enforced safety standards on similar trips as the organisers were cleared of neglect.

ALARM Despite severe injuries, Horatio Chapple warned others.
ALARM Despite severe injuries, Horatio Chapple warned others.

The coroner at the inquest into the death of 17-year-old Eton pupil Horatio Chapple, following a bear attack in his tent in the Svalbard islands, yesterday returned a narrative verdict after a five-day inquest.

Ian Singleton, assistant coroner for Wiltshire, said that although the group were missing items of equipment, including parts of the tripwire alert system, the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) had not been neglectful. He added that "failure" by the trip organisers "was not total or complete".

Since the fateful expedition in August 2011, BSES has been renamed the British Exploring Society (BES).

Four others were hurt, including mountain leader Andrew Ruck, 27, from Edinburgh.

Mr Singleton said the use of a tripwire system, which had been criticised during the hearing, instead of a bear watch was compliant with Norwegian law. Pen flares distributed to the group would not have helped either as they could be used only at close range.

Horatio's parents, David and Olivia, of Salisbury, have now called for British Safety Standard 8848 to be legally enforced to protect other would-be young explorers.

They said: "These sensible guidelines were developed for organisations taking children on adventurous activities abroad, so that any parent handing their child into the care of a provider can be assured that the venture has been professionally planned and managed.

"We would urge parents to question the organisations who may be taking responsibility for the lives of their children. Ask the uncomfortable questions and only trust if you are completely satisfied with the answers."

The couple said they took comfort from their son's "courageous actions" that the inquest heard may have distracted the bear and prevented other members of the group from being killed.

On realising that it was pawing and shaking their tent, Horatio and his companions shouted "bear". These shouts woke some of the other tents, but there was no verbal reply from the leaders.

Horatio managed to get up despite severe head wounds in the attack and faced the 250kg bear, screaming at it and raising his arms against the animal in an attempt to ward it off.

The Chapples added: "Our solace is the 17 years of love, kindness and courage, which Horatio gave to so many of us.

"We take some small comfort from the fact that Horatio's courageous actions may have distracted the bear, preventing others from being killed."

They pointed out that the bear collapsed the tent and then went quiet. Despite his injuries, Horatio, they said, stood up, "confronting the bear with all that he had, his screaming voice, his empty hands and raised arms".

The group struggled to get a German Second World War rifle to fire properly in the struggle, but the coroner said the failure of one of the trip leaders, Michael Reid, 29, to fire it did not contribute to Horatio's death.

Edward Watson, BES chairman, said in a statement: "The Society does not intend to make any statement regarding the outcome of the inquest at this stage.

"Again may I express our ­ deepest sympathy to the Chapple family."

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Families

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