Sudbury: Open verdict into boy’s river death on Beaver trip

How a six-year-old boyended up in a river and subsequently died on a Beaver Scout outing remains a mystery.

THE FAMILY of a little boy who was found lifeless in a river on a Beaver Scout outing will never know how he died.

At the end of a three-day inquest into the death of Alan Lock, from Acton, near Sudbury, the coroner recorded an open verdict.

Coroner Peter Dean said this reflected the fact there remained “unanswered,” and he believed “unanswerable, questions” surrounding the death of the six-year-old boy on June 16, 2009.

Following the inquest it emerged that the Scout Association have admitted liability for the death of Alan while in their care, which involves compensation.

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The association have said since the tragedy improvements have been put in place regarding how supervised outings are carried out and they welcomed any advice from the coroner.

Representing the family, Hannah Rutterford, of Kester Cunningham John solicitors, said following the inquest: “Obviously the verdict is what it is.

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“What’s more distressing to them is that they are never going to know what’s happened here.”

She said the family were pleased to hear changes were being made “so this can never happen again” and the admission of liability on behalf of the Scout Association had been important to them.

She said: “They hope just now to get on with their lives and put this as far behind them as they can.”

Scout Association spokesman Simon Carter said: “We accept there wasn’t the correct amount of supervision on the day that there should have been and we are very sad about that and can do everything we can in the future to make sure things like that don’t happen.”

The inquest heard how Alan, who had attended Acton Primary School, had been one of 18 Beaver Scouts supervised by four adults on a scavenger hunt at Friars Meadow in Sudbury followed by a walk along the old railway line that evening.

At some point Alan had become separated from the group, but it was only when one of the children spotted a pair of shoes in the River Stour - which turned out to be the youngster - it became apparent he had been missing.

Despite many efforts to resuscitate him he was pronounced dead at West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, at 10.16pm.

During the inquest Robert Horner, a lawyer representing the family, had made the suggestion that Alan could have been missing for up to 40/50 minutes.

Four adults had been supervising the children, which meets the required adult to child ratio, but only one head count had been carried out which a representative from the Scout Association had said was insufficient.

Alison Wadley, who at the time was assistant leader in training with 1st Acton and Waldingfield Scout Group, admitted, in hindsight, she should have carried out a head count at the second bridge along the walk.

It was on this bridge that her and Steven Norman, a parent helper, heard a sound which they dismissed, and on the way back it was at this bridge that Alan was discovered in the water.

Dr Dean said even if a second head count had been done, it could have revealed Alan had been missing much earlier, but did not necessarily mean the outcome would have been different.

Alan died following immersion in water and a heart condition called myocarditis could have played a part in his death.

Dr Dean said there had been a number of “unlikely” scenarios as to how the youngster died, including Alan falling off the second bridge or walking down a path to the river. These were said to be out of character as Alan had been sensible and well-behaved with an aversion to water.

Dr Dean said the adults supervising the group had been “clearly trying to do what they could to give the children a safe and enjoyable evening out”.

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