Playing games in dark too dangerous, British Court of Appeal tells scouts

Children's groups have been warned not to play games in the dark after the Court of Appeal upheld a compensation award to a scout injured during night activities.

In ruling that playing ball games at night created an unacceptable risk to youngsters, the court upheld a £7,000 compensation payout to a former scout, who was injured during a game called Objects in the Dark.

The Scouts Association had urged the court to overturn the award, arguing it would make it harder to draw youngsters away from computer screens and televisions. But Lady Justice Smith and Lord Justice Ward, dismissed their appeal.

They ruled that Mark Barnes, of Castle Bromwich, West Mids, had been a victim of negligence and that playing the game in the dark had created an unacceptable risk.

Despite expressing "instinctive sympathy" towards the Scout Association, Lord Justice Ward said that "scouting would not lose much of its value" if such games were played with the lights on.

In a dissenting ruling, Lord Justice Jackson found that it was not the function of the law "to eliminate every iota of risk or to stamp out socially desirable activities".

At an earlier hearing, the court was told that Mr Barnes, now 22, had damaged his shoulder during the game at the 237th troop's hall in Castle Bromwich, in 2001. The activity involved running around a pile of wooden blocks in the middle of a room then, when the lights were switched off leaving only a residual glow from emergency exits, rushing into the centre to pick up a block.

The scout left without holding a block would be out. The activity was a variation of the Scout Association Handbook game “Grab”, which followed the same rules but with lights on. This was done to “spice” up the activity, the court heard.

Mr Barnes, then 13 and captain of the county rugby team and described as a "big lad", had damaged his shoulder when he slid into a bench. An MRI scan in 2007 disclosed a "permanent impaction injury", which meant he would always suffer pain when the shoulder was under stress. Despite being able to continue playing rugby, the transport coordinator was awarded £7,322 in January.

The Scout Association, which had criticised the payout as a damaging example of the "nanny state", was ordered to pay costs and was refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. A spokesman said: "The safety of our members is our top priority and we will be considering the judgment in detail."


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