Newham Council prosecuted after pupil scarred for life on school trip

15:00 29 January 2013

Newham Council was ordered to pay £30,000 on Friday for failing to prevent a 15-year-old schoolgirl being engulfed in a fireball that left her scarred for life.

The teenager, then a pupil at Plashet School for Girls in East Ham, was one of 25 girls on a three-day camping trip in West Sussex for the Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award scheme when she was caught in a flashover after another pupil poured methylated spirits on to a cooking stove she thought was going out.

The flames set fire to her clothing and headscarf, causing severe burns to her hands, arms, face, neck, and legs.

After spending three weeks recovering in Chelmsford Hospital’s Special Burns Unit, the student had to have a skin graft and was left with permanent scarring.

The group was led by an expedition leader employed by the council along with two teachers and a school administrator.

The incident, on July 9 2011, prompted an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who brought a prosecution against Newham Council for breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

They were fined £15,000 plus £17,246 costs at Southwark Crown Court on Friday January 25.

The HSE said the incident could have been avoided if fuel had been contained correctly, safely stored, and simple stove lighting procedures followed.

After the hearing, HSE inspector John Crookes said: “This incident was avoidable and the failure to take simple safety measures has led to a young girl being unnecessarily scarred for life.”

A spokesperson for Newham Council said: “The council apologises to her for the injuries she sustained. We have supported her and her family during her recovery from the incident.

“We entered a guilty plea in the crown court and co-operated closely with the HSE in the investigation of this incident and in taking remedial action.

“We have endeavoured to learn all the lessons possible from this.”

The representative added that this is the first time they have been prosecuted for such an incident and “immediate preventative action” had been taken to ensure it did not happen again.

Risk assessments and methods have been revised and spirit stoves will no longer be used on expeditions and other activities.

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