Jul 9, 2014

Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple mauled to death by a polar bear after a trip-wire failed

Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple mauled to death by a polar bear after a trip-wire failed. AN Eton schoolboy was mauled to death by a polar bear after a trip-wire which had been mended with paperclips failed to trigger an alert, a report has found.

Horatio Chapple, 17, was dragged from his tent while on a £4000 adventure holiday in Svalbard, Norway, with friends in 2011.

The horrific details of the incident were laid bare in an independent report yesterday which concluded that the death was “not unforeseeable”.

It told how trip organisers had realised the trip-wire kit was defective only once the expedition had started, leaving the group to improvise with paperclips and safety pins.

Report author Sir David Steel, a High Court judge, was commissioned by the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES), which ran the expedition, to conduct an independent inquiry.

He said the group were camping on a remote glacier and had been using a trip-wire which should have triggered explosive devices if crossed.

But at 7.30am on August 5 the bear broke in while the group were asleep, and the devices failed to trigger.

The 39-stone animal ripped open Horatio’s tent and dragged him outside, causing “mortal” head wounds.

As his horrified companions screamed “bear”, others in the camp left their tents and witnessed Horatio being mauled by the animal.

Sir David wrote: “Horatio appeared to try and sit up or even attempt to stand, whereupon the bear reared up and slammed into him. He fell on the ground. He was not seen to move again.” One of the expedition leaders, Michael Reid, tried four times to shoot the bear with a rifle, but the bullets were simply ejected on to the ground.

The bear then launched itself on him, and he dropped the gun as he was being mauled. When a second leader threw a stone at the bear, it mauled him too before attacking others in the group, injuring four in all.

Witnesses said it kept going back to the “prone body of Horatio”, which was lying lifeless on the ground.

Mr Reid, although he had horrific head wounds, managed to gather up his rifle and one of the ejected bullets and shoot the bear dead.

Sir David said a significant number of parts were missing for the trip-wire, and there were not enough pen flares — which can be used to scare away polar bears — to go around.

And despite the equipment being defective, it had been decided not to implement a “bear watch”, in which members of the group would stay awake to guard the camp.

Sir David said: “This tragedy was caused by the rare occurrence of an intrusion of a starving polar bear into a camp situated well inland. It was a remote possibility but not unforeseeable.” The publication of the report was delayed until yesterday to coincide with the resumption of the inquest in Salisbury into Horatio’s death.

His parents, GP Dr Olivia Chapple and her surgeon husband David, told the inquest that they had been assured every possible safety measure had been taken otherwise they would not have let Horatio go on the trip.

The inquest also heard polar bears had been spotted in the area twice in the run-up to the trip, an “unusually high” number of sightings. A leader of Horatio’s group then found paw prints in the snow.

Richard Payne, from the BSES, who was “ultimately responsible” for the children’s safety, left checking the pallet of trip-wires until the last minute, when a “substantial shortfall” of items was discovered, it was said. Vital parts were missing, including half the stakes needed to set up a boundary and two-thirds of the alarm triggers.

Henry Witcomb, for the Chapples, suggested Mr Payne dispatched the children with ‘cobbled together’ protection and compromised their safety — a charge he denied. The inquest continues.