Sports centres must warn over safety

Poppleton v Trustees of the Portsmouth Youth Activities Committee (Queen's Bench Division - 12 July 2007)

In 2002, Mr Poppleton attended an activity centre in Portsmouth run by the defendant, the Trustees of the Portsmouth Youth Activities Committee, to participate in an activity involving low level free climbing without ropes known as 'bouldering'. Mr Poppleton was a novice in this sport having only attended the centre on a few previous occasions.

While attempting what the judge described as a "foolhardy", "dangerous and risky" manoeuvre, Mr Poppleton fell and suffered a spinal injury that rendered him tetraplegic from the neck down. Mr Poppleton alleged negligence and/or breach of statutory duty on behalf of the defendant.

The defendant accepted that no formal risk assessment had been carried out but maintained that it had clearly displayed a sign forbidding such manoeuvres. The Health and Safety Executive investigated and found the matting to be adequate according to the British Mountaineering Council and HSE guidance.

The judge held that it would be wrong to extend the law of negligence to give rise to a duty of care to assess the climber's abilities before allowing use of facilities - and thereafter provide a form of supervision or training. However, the judge found that there was a duty to warn Mr Poppleton of "any specific dangers which might not be known to him and might be hidden from him". The defendant should have ensured that he was not "misled" into believing that the matting would save him from injury. The defendant was held 25% liable.


Sports and activity centres should consider their duty to protect attendees from their own foolhardiness. They must warn attendees of the limits of any safety protection provided. Rachel Robertson, BLM Manchester.

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