Graduate died after fall from horse on expedition

A UNIVERSITY graduate who died when she was thrown from a horse on a remote mountain trail in Africa had not been given a helmet and was not given tuition by her guides, an inquest heard.

Gemma Wilson, from Leeds, was on a dream holiday with her fiancé, but it ended in tragedy when the horse she was riding bolted, throwing her from the saddle.

Miss Wilson, 24, who grew up in Worksop, was on a trek when the animal was spooked. She ended up with one foot trapped in a stirrup and suffered head injuries after being dragged along.

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An inquest into her death heard that the novice riders were not offered safety gear before they set off and were not given advice on how to handle the animals.

Miss Wilson and her fiancé James Langton were part of a group horse trek through remote mountains near the Malealea Lodge in Lesotho, a landlocked country in southern Africa, on November 4 2009.

The court heard how there had been a number of health and safety lapses by the tour guides at the lodge, run by Expedition Africa, which was formerly an agent of Imaginative Travel.

The inquest heard it took four hours for a helicopter ambulance to arrive after a panic because no one had a mobile phone with a signal or was aware of the correct emergency phone number.

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It was also claimed during the hearing that there was no one with first aid training among the team of guides.

Miss Wilson, who had worked for BT after completing her education, had been a student at Aston University in Birmingham where she was described a “star graduate”.

Mr Langton told the inquest in Nottingham: “This was a trip aimed at novice riders and I can say with 100 per cent certainty that we were not given any instructions on how to ride the horse.

“The people on the ground weren’t trained. Why would they put us in that position?”

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Consultant neurologist Mr Ian Robertson who examined Miss Wilson’s case, told the hearing: “This was not the type of head injury that would have been stopped by a helmet. The injury was caused by the movement of the brain and not the impact of the fall.”

Martin Shapter, who was commercial director of Imaginative Travel in 2009, which has since become Peak Adventure, also gave evidence.

He told the hearing that he was unable to answer the extent to which they had investigated the availability of helmets. He could not confirm whether or not a formal investigation had taken place following Gemma’s death.

Mr Shapter said that the firm no longer used Expedition Africa as a supplier and now use their own in-house suppliers around the world for more quality control, ensuring better healthy and safety training and standards.

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Deputy coroner Heidi Connor recorded a narrative verdict, saying: “I am satisfied that even if Gemma was wearing a helmet, the outcome would have been the same.

“But I must consider that in other situations this could be the difference between life and death.

“The evidence is that helmets should have been offered as they were available on the day, but this simply did not happen.”

Speaking afterwards, Gemma’s father Stuart Wilson, 52, from the Scottish Borders, said that he did not accept the verdict or the findings of the inquest.

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“I was looking for closure today, but that doesn’t appear to be the case,” he said. “I plan to sit down and discuss this with my family and I am looking to appeal this decision.

“Gemma was exceptional and was going to be successful. Her death was devastating and James and the whole family have been traumatised by this.”

Mr Wilson added: “I wouldn’t stop my children from going on these adventure treks, but I want to ensure that the number one priority of these companies is the safety of their customers.”

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