The boss of a Sheffield adventure tour firm yesterday told how a trip he organised for Sir Ranulph Fiennes turned into a nightmare after a participant sued his company for injuries she sustained in a series of staged “stunts”.
Sir Ranulph, who is billed as “the world’s greatest living explorer”, instigated the fake “accidents” during a televised expedition to make his adventure look more “exciting” for the cameras, Appeal Court judges heard.
Natalie Harrison, who had been invited by the explorer to accompany him on the expedition in Ecuador in 2004, took part in two “stunts”, first “pretending” to fall down a crevasse in a glacier, then later to fall again.
But in 2007 she claimed she had suffered head injuries as a result, and launched a claim against Sheffield-based Jagged Globe (Alpine) Ltd, saying local guides laid on by the company should have prevented her being involved.
The court heard that Sir Ranulph, despite leading the expedition, was not involved in the action, and had written to Miss Harrison asking her to send him a “full disclaimer” – in return offering £200 for osteopathy sessions.
Jagged Globe’s managing director Simon Lowe contested the 38-year-old Oxford graduate’s claim, but in April last year Judge Simon Freeland QC found the firm liable, paving the way for a damages payout of as much as £30,000.
But earlier this week three Appeal Court judges cleared the company of any responsibility for the “stunts” carried out at the suggestion of Sir Ranulph, and instead handed Miss Harrison a £50,000 legal costs bill.
Last night Mr Lowe, who lives in Sheffield, said: “When Sir Ranulph Fiennes contacted us and asked us to organise a trip to Ecuador the last thing I expected was to find myself on the wrong end of a compensation claim.
“This very nearly turned out to be the complete destruction of my company. We were aware there had been an incident while they were there, but I was absolutely gobsmacked when we received a letter of claim from Miss Harrison.
“In this business, where safety is everything, your reputation is everything.
“Our clients come to us because they have heard we are good and that is how we built up a really good business since we set up in Sheffield in 1995.
“I would never have surrendered to Natalie Harrison or Ranulph Fiennes but there were times when I wondered why should I bother running a business the best I possibly could when it seems it can be taken from you so easily.”
The court heard Miss Harrison was the only other climber to accompany the 68-year-old explorer on the “self-led” expedition which took place eight months after the death of his first wife Ginny, and seven months before he married 38-year old Louise Millington in May 2005.
Mr Lowe, whose company is based in Mowbray Street, Sheffield, represented himself in the first trial last year, and said he had spent about £150,000 defending himself and the firm and taking the case to appeal.
The former soldier thanked his Sheffield-based solicitor Wake Smith and added: “People who travel on our trips have a sense of adventure. I thought Ranulph Fiennes was one of them, but he was put to the test here.
“It has been immensely tough on me and my wife and four children over the last five years and immensely expensive.
“We haven’t had a holiday since 2007 and I haven’t even wanted to spend money on a cup of coffee.”
In his judgment Lord Justice Pitchford, sitting with Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Lloyd-Jones, said the only injuries sustained by Miss Harrison had been “long-term headaches” and a “soft tissue injury to her neck”.
Referring to the earlier judgment handed down in April 2011, Lord Justice Pitchford added: “I conclude that the judge was in error in finding that there was a duty of care owed in the particular circumstances in which the accident occurred, and this appeal will be allowed.”
Miss Harrison, who lives in Portland, Dorset, declined to comment.