The two week inquest into the death of Harry Sykes concluded on 26th April 2022 with Senior Coroner Martin Fleming finding that the planning of the tour was “slipshod” and that the supervision at the lake was inadequate.  He also found that the lack of head counts was a significant flaw in the Greenwood’s planning which resulted in Harry’s disappearance going unnoticed until the group arrived back at their hotel hours later, despite the fact that Harry’s rucksack (displaying his initials) and bright orange towel remained on the beach.  The Senior Coroner found that this was also indicative of poor supervision.

The Coroner recorded a narrative conclusion which is as follows;

On the 5 September 2018 Harry James Sykes was on a rugby trip to Carcassonne, France, under the supervision of Halifax Elite Rugby Academy, he suffered a cardiac event whilst swimming in a lake and drowned when not observed.  It is unclear if he had been seen if it would have made any difference to the outcome.

The Coroner was invited to consider a conclusion of unlawful killing.  The Coroner did indeed carefully consider this but found that he was unable to do so on the basis that the absence of Harry’s heart (lost by the French authorities) meant that he could not determine the cause of the cardiac event.  Secondly, whilst the Coroner found that there were very serious failures and errors of judgment these did not amount to gross failures to allow him to satisfy the legal test for gross negligence manslaughter.

During the course of the investigation it has become apparent to us that sports academies such as Halifax Elite Rugby Academy (HERA) are not subject to any regulatory oversight which is a great cause of concern.  Such businesses can be set up by anyone, you do not require any qualifications or training.  You simply need to secure an education funding provider, such as Loughborough College in this instance.

Education providers such as Loughborough College have policies and procedures in place with regards to their sub-contractors, such as HERA however, this does not extend to extracurricular activities, or outside term time, such as a rugby tour abroad as in this case.  However, this is often not made clear to the students and their parents.

Many students and parents, as in this case, are romanced into the course, under the halo of being a state funded organisation affiliated with a renowned and respected College such as Loughborough.  This ultimately led to two individuals taking 36 children abroad without sufficient ratios of adult to children, without proper planning or parental consent, without insurance and without a proper supervision plan which ultimately ended in the very sad death of Harry.  The families concern is that this could happen again, due to the lack of oversight of a governing body.

The family would like educational organisations such as Loughborough College to do better.  To extend their safeguarding policies and procedures to all activities linked to the course no matter what time of year they take place.

The family have similar concerns about governing bodies, the Rugby Football League (RFL) in this case.  The RFL offer guidance for taking children on tour abroad and will sanction a trip providing their policy and procedures have been met.  However, the sanctioning of the tour merely provides insurance cover for matches and training.  It does not extend to other activities.  The RFL were notified of this trip before it took place but did nothing to try and prevent it from going ahead.  The family would like governing bodies such as the RFL to do better.  To extend their safeguarding policies and procedures to trips abroad, particularly involving children, and to apply sanctions to anyone who proceeds with a trip which has not been approved.

Finally, the family would like the Education Skills and Funding Authority (ESFA) to tighten legislation and provide regulatory oversight of any organisation receiving state funds for further education provision, including those sub contracted.

At present we have been told that no one had any governance over HERA due to there not being any overarching governing body. If trips like this were to be run by a Local Authority School then there are fail safes in place (Group Leader/Head Teacher/Local Authority), there is simply nothing for this new breed of education establishment.

It would take very little effort for these organisations to make these changes but such changes would significantly reduce the risk to children.

A link to the BBC Look North coverage can be found below;

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