Mother of teen who died on Scout trip joins three other grieving families calling for regulation

Jackie believes the Scouts Association has "failed" in keeping children safe. Credit: Family photograph

A mother of a 16-year-old boy who died on a Scouts trip has joined forces with three other grieving families to urge the government to launch a public inquiry into the association.

Ben Leonard, 16, from Stockport, was left "unsupervised" before dying from a serious head injury after falling 200ft off the Great Orme in Llandudno while on a three-day expedition with the Reddish Explorer Scouts in 26 August 2018.

A jury inquest concluded Ben had been “unlawfully killed” by the Explorer Scouts leader and assistant leader and found neglect of the Scouts Association was a contributing factor.

Jackie Leonard, 54, said her son's death had had a "devastating impact" on her family, adding the Scouts Association needed to be regulated by an external body to make expeditions safer, and to prevent more children from dying.

The mum has now joined forces with the families of three boys who also died on Scouting expeditions in the 1990s - and said like the Post Office scandal, families face challenging battle for change.

Lee Craddock, Scott Fanning and Roy Thornton, who died while on trips with the Scouts in 1995, 1998 and 1999.

The four families are now demanding the Government launch a public inquiry into the organisation’s “training and policies”, as well as establish an external regulator.

Jackie said: “I do think that in their 100-plus-year history, this is their darkest time.

“Like with the Post Office, it’s a David and Goliath situation where you’ve got this worldwide organisation and then you’ve got some families who are trying to get change.

“We don’t want to see Scouts abolished or anything like that, because there are a lot of good people in Scouting doing good work and a lot of children that get enjoyment from it.

“My Ben enjoyed it, but it needs to be made safe and that’s why we just want to see them regulated by an outside body, like schools and other activity centres.”

Ben Leonard's mum said the apology was five-and-half years too late Credit: MEN Media

The association’s Chief Executive Matt Hyde announced he was stepping down after 11 years of service to head the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, but will remain in post until September 2024.

Jackie said that under Mr Hyde’s leadership the association had “failed” in its number one priority, to keep children safe.

Each week around 500,000 young people and 145,000 adult volunteers participate in Scouting projects, according to the association's own figures.

Jackie, who has another son called Thomas, 26, who was also in the Scouts as a young boy, remembers receiving a phone call from the Scout leader on the day Ben died.

“He rang me and said Ben had had a fall, and at first I just thought ‘Oh, he’s twisted his ankle’ or done something like that you know," she said.

“Then he said the ambulance is there and they are working on him.

“And straight away, those words were just like, 'Oh my god'.

“For about an hour we didn’t know what was happening and we couldn’t leave because we’d been told they might be taking him somewhere by air ambulance.

“Then about an hour later the police knocked on the door.”

Jackie and the other three families who share her grief are launching a petition in a bid to ensure it never happens again.

“It’s the effect it has on the rest of the family – the ripple effect if you like,” she said.

“The impact it’s had on his brother, on me and his dad, it’s just heartbreaking.

“And I know from speaking to some of the other mums that the heartbreak it causes does not go away, even years on.

“That’s why for us this petition is so important.

“We’re just hoping and praying that the powers that be take notice.”

“Change needs to happen to stop more children from dying,” she added.

The petition, which calls for the Government to launch a public inquiry, has so far received 1,890 signatures and requires 100,000 for the topic to be debated in Parliament.

A jury inquest into Ben's death first listed for 2020 was cancelled after it came to light the "Court had been misled", according to the coroner's prevention of future deaths report.

A second jury inquest was set for November 2022, but was aborted again after material non-disclosure to the court.

It would take more than a year for a third jury inquest to rule that Ben’s death was due to “Unlawful killing by the Explorer Scout Leader and Assistant Explorer Scout Leader contributed to by the neglect of the Scouts Association”.

“We were just so, so relieved,” said Jackie.

“I couldn’t believe it when he said unlawful killing.

“We were not pleased of course, but we feel it was the right conclusion to reach.”

Ben had been left “unsupervised” with two other Scouts on the grassy tops of the Great Orme, a 679ft (207m) headland on the north coast of Wales, according to the coroner’s report.

Ben slipped and fell off the cliff after thinking he could see a quicker way down.

Paramedics carried out medical interventions and CPR before pronouncing his death at 2:45pm.

“It just feels like as soon as the ambulance door closed it was about damage limitation for them,” said Jackie.

“Let’s just sweep it under the carpet.

“They say their number one priority is child safety and they have now been found to have failed at it.”

Ben Leonard, 16, died of a serious head injury after falling off the Great Orme in Llandudno Credit: PA Images

On the day of Ben’s death “no brief, instructions or written risk assessment was done”, the court heard.

“In my opinion there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken,” David Pojur, assistant coroner for North Wales, concluded in his report.

Jackie said: “It makes you feel quite angry that nothing was done.

“It’s just awful… it’s terrible.

“And how many near misses have there been that people don’t know about.

“It’s scary.”

The Scouts Association, which was created by authority of a Royal Charter, granted by King George V in 1912, is currently self-governing with regulatory oversight by the Charity Commission.

But currently there is no independent body that periodically audits and inspects the systems, processes and training of the Scouts Association.

“I just want to say to them, these children’s lives mattered,” said Jackie.

“All children’s lives matter and they need to be kept safe and that is the main thing.

“I don’t know why they don’t want to be regulated and try to keep it all in house.

“It’s just wrong.”

A spokesperson for the Scouts Association said: “Keeping young people safe is our top priority.

“We look closely at all incidents to ensure we are creating the safest possible environments for the thousands of young people who take part in Scouts every year.

“We are closely reviewing the coroner’s recommendations and will adopt all further changes we can to prevent such a tragic event happening again.”

Jackie’s petition can be found at: