The Claimants, aged 15 and 16, were raped whilst on a trip to Belize. There were two Defendants: (1) the school and (2) the specialist travel company that organised the expedition.
The school girls were raped by the son of the owner of the resort where they were staying. The Claimants were taking part in a project at a local farm (after the Second Defendant had carried out various risk assessments of the particular risks posed by the site). As a ‘treat’ in return for the work, the group was taken to a local swimming pool where the son had acted, at times, inappropriately. There was then a visit to a bar in the evening and the Claimants were supplied with drink. Later that evening the son raped the Claimants in their jungle cabin.
The issues for the court were:
- Could the Defendants be held liable on grounds of vicarious liability? Although the son was never an employee of either Defendant, it was submitted that he was ‘recruited or enlisted as part of the leadership team and entrusted with the supervision/care of the girls’.
- Whether the school was liable for breach of their duty of care in deciding the organisation and structure of the expedition (and specifically that only one teacher was allotted to it).
- Whether the excursion/expedition leadership team were in breach of their duty to exercise reasonable skill/care in keeping the girls free from the foreseeable harm (and specifically to respond appropriately to indications by the rapist that he posed a risk to the girls by virtue of his inappropriate behaviour towards them at the swimming pool, particularly the day preceding the attack).
The Court dismissed the claims:
- The facts fell short of describing a situation where it would be fair/just to call the farmer a person whose actions the Defendant should be vicariously liable. As owner of the farm/land, the farmer had the power to licence the girls to stay on the farm. Having allocated the work and explained what was to be done (and then leaving the girls to carry it out under the direct and continuous unbroken supervision of the Defendant leaders) it would not be just and fair to call the farmer a person whose actions for whom the Defendant should be vicariously liable. The farmer and son were acting as facilitators of the visit to the swimming pool (and to the bar that evening) but were not acting as employees. During all relevant periods the girls were continuously under the direct supervision of the three excursion leaders.
- The girls were aged between 15 and 17, were intelligent and were given a high degree of responsibility for planning/execution of the trip, the itinerary, budgeting etc. It was not a holiday but intended to be an educational exercise. The Judge said the whole ethos of the expedition was to learn self-reliance with a minimum of adult supervision. Present for the trip was a teacher from the school plus two representatives from the organising company. The party was supervised by three highly responsible experienced adults plus two ex-military employees to protect them.
The attacker had no criminal record and worked openly as a tour guide. No amount of checking could have alerted the school to the threat he posed.