Flooding 'out of character' for cave in tragedy

THE deputy head of an outdoor centre which ran a school trip during which a boy drowned in a cave, has told a jury she could not understand how it had happened when she first heard about the accident.

Joe Lister, 14, died when he and 10 fellow pupils from Tadcaster Grammar School found a passageway, known as the Crawl, flooded as water levels suddenly rose in the Manchester Hole cave in the Yorkshire Dales.

Erica Caswell, who on November 14, 2005, was acting head at the Bewerley Park centre near Pateley Bridge, said when she received a phone call of the cave flooding that day: "I couldn't understand what had happened or how it had happened."

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She told Leeds Crown Court yesterday she had never heard of that cave flooding rapidly.

"It seemed so out of character with the prevailing conditions and our knowledge and understanding of all the parameters to make sure it was safe to go into that particular cave."

In addition the trip had been led by Tony Boyle "our most experienced member of staff".

She told the jury had she and staff known there was potential for such an event they would have approached the management of school trips to the cave differently.

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North Yorkshire County Council, which owns and operates the Bewerley Park centre, denies two charges of failing to ensure the health and safety of the pupils and its own employees.

The prosecution claims the council carried out a complacent and inadequate risk assessment. The council maintains the rapid flooding in Manchester Hole was unprecedented and could not have been foreseen.

Mrs Caswell told Robert Smith QC, defending the council, that following the incident she had visited the area on November 22 and investigated a new sink near the entrance to Goyden Pot.

After five to 10 metres horizontal there was a vertical rift. "I dropped down this chiselled rift, the limestone at the bottom seemed newly exposed. It was very rough and yellow in colour."

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She could feel a cold draft come through "which led me to believe there must be a through way to Manchester Hole, I didn't proceed further I didn't want to get myself into a difficult position."

Under cross-examination by Tim Horlock QC, prosecuting, she said until November 14 she was not aware of that new sink or its risk to Manchester Hole.

She agreed she and other staff were aware that earlier in 2005 after some staff mentioned changes in water velocity at that cave that Mr Boyle had investigated and discovered a sink about 150 metres upstream from Manchester Hole and had reported that to staff.

The trial continues on Monday.