4th Sept 2023 – Guilty of Manslaughter? ? An interactive case discussion– Prof Kevin Channer

Prof Channer, a consultant cardiologist, explained that he undertook some medico-legal work for colleagues when he was based at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, and his talk was based on a true story. He presented the case to our audience, who would then be the jury.

It involved an under-19 football team, connected to a league club, which had just suffered a 5-0 defeat. Their trainer decided that the team members needed to improve their strength, endurance and teamwork.

The Army ran a training scheme so the 16 team members were sent to Catterick Camp to take part in a hard work programme for a week..
They were split into four groups and went through the programme led by two officers, a sergeant and corporal.
Late on the Wednesday morning the two officers were called away, leaving Sgt Fitzgerald in charge of the group.
At the end of the week there was a final six-mile cross-country run. At around two thirds distance there was a large pond, which the Army trainees were ordered to run through, but the sergeant told the four groups of footballers to go down to the pond, turn right and go around the pond.
By the time the pond was reached the groups were spaced out and the leading group, accompanied by the sergeant, turned right and ran around the pond. The second group reached the pond and their leader, intent on beating the first group, said they could get into the lead by cutting through the pond, which they did, but one of the group drowned. Sgt Fitzgerald was charged with gross negligence manslaughter, because the sergeant owed a duty of care to the dead man.

The prosecution claimed that the sergeant (a) had a duty of care and had failed in his duty, (b) had not checked that the boys could swim and (c) had not done a full risk assessment
There were only three witnesses to the death – the other three boys in the second group.The dead boy, Mahmood Hassan, came to Sheffield as a refugee. He had had an ECG and was found to have a second degree heart block, which meant that he had an occasional missing heartbeat. Could this lead to him drowning? It was known that a splash of cold water in the face could affect the heart rate so perhaps he was vulnerable if his heart missed several beats.

The three witnesses admitted that Mo did not want to go in the water because he could not swim, but two boys had already gone in and the third boy pushed him in. He floated face down, they realised something was wrong so they got him out.
The defence case was that this was a tragic accident. The death happened because of unlikely and unpredictable events. The sergeant had designed the run to avoid going in the pond.

Kevin then asked us, as the jury, what was our verdict?

We found him NOT GUILTY by a clear margin, with only four voting the other way.

However, the actual jury found him guilty. But the judge, in his summing up, implied that it was the Army’s fault, and fined the sergeant £1,500, which the Army paid. This was a very interesting and quite different presentation by Kevin, enjoyed by another good turnout of more than 40 members