Anger after coroner says Bradford teenager Harry Sykes died on 'slipshod' rugby trip

Harry Sykes died while on a trip to France in 2018 Credit: MEN Media

The grieving mother of a 16-year-old rugby player who died on a tour of France in 2018 has spoken out after a coroner branded the organisers "inadequate" and "slipshod".

Harry Sykes, from Bradford, was on a college trip with the Halifax Elite Rugby Academy when he drowned on 5 September, 2018.

His body was recovered by divers from Lake Cayavere near Carcassonne, in southern France, after a day the beach for more than 30 young rugby players.

An inquest at Bradford Coroner's Court heard he was found in 2m of water, 20m from the beach.

Harry Sykes, who died in France Credit: Rugby Football League

Brothers Lee and Gareth Greenwood, both former professional rugby players who founded Halifax Elite Rugby Academy, took the players on the trip. Harry swam with a small group to some rocks and had then been seen playing volleyball in the water.

The inquest previously heard how Harry, a strong swimmer, was reported missing after his team got back to the hotel and realised he had been left behind.

On Monday, senior coroner Martin Fleming said the organisation and preparation of the visit to the lake left a lot to be desired.

After the hearing, Mrs Burton said: "I, as a mother, hold them responsible for his death. It was their responsibility and duty to make sure they knew where everyone was and that they were safe. They shouldn't be able to work with children again. They have no idea of the correct way to run an academy.

"I can tell you that I blame the Greenwoods for the loss of my baby. We are astounded that yet again justice has not been served for Harry. This was a tragic and unnecessary death. Harry continues to be missed by all his family and this is felt every day."

The lake where Harry Sykes died.

On Monday 25 April, Mr Fleming said the organisation and preparation of the visit to the lake was poor. He said: "This resulted in confusion and uncertainty with respect to supervision, which was at best, sporadic. The lack of headcounts showed significant flaws in supervision and enabled Harry to disappear."

Mr Fleming said that no one had noticed Harry was not in a group photograph taken before they left the lake, and that a "cursory" check of the beach had failed to alert them to the fact that Harry's bag and towel were still there. But, he said, "even if the ratio of supervision was as low as 1-10 or 1-6," it remains unclear whether close supervision would have enabled anyone to save Harry, as the circumstances and time of his death are still a mystery.

He said: "There is no evidence he was at particular risk of drowning, no evidence he was in distress or called out for help." He said the Greenwood brothers were in breach of their duties, with failings including, "taking insufficient supervisors to the lake, failing to supervise boys properly at times, failing to designate a supervisor when leaving the beach, failing to conduct headcounts while on the beach."

But he said these did not give rise to a serious risk of death and did not amount to gross negligence manslaughter.

Previously, while answering questions by counsel at the inquest, Lee Greenwood responded to Mr Fleming's interjection asking if it would have been a good idea to check if all boys left the beach, admitting; "With hindsight, yes".

Both brothers were arrested by West Yorkshire Police in 2019, but the Crown Prosecution Service declined to press charges.

Mr Fleming concluded that "Harry suffered a cardiac event of uncertain origins while swimming and drowned in unclear circumstances when he was not observed to be in difficulties. It remains unclear whether if he had been seen and retrieved, it would have made any difference to the outcome."

The academy was connected to Loughborough College and a spokesman said: "Our thoughts are with Harry's family and anyone who knew him, following the conclusion of the inquest.

"Whilst it was made clear throughout the process that Harry was not a Loughborough College student and the college had no responsibility or powers in relation to the trip, any loss of a young life is a tragedy and our hearts go out to all affected."