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   Case summaries      Ratcliff v McConnell

Ratcliff v McConnell and Harper Adams College [1997] EWCA Civ 2679   Court of Appeal

The claimant was a student at Harper Adams College. One night he had been out drinking with friends on campus and they decided they would go for a swim in the college pool which was 100 yards from the student bar. They climbed over a locked gate into the open air swimming pool. The pool had a notice at the entrance which stated the pool would be locked and its use prohibited between the hours of 10pm -6.30am. There was a notice at the shallow end in red on a White background stating ‘Shallow end’ and a notice at the deep end stating ‘Deep end, shallow dive’. However, the boys did not see the signs because there was no light. The three boys undressed. The claimant put his toe in the water to test the temperature and then the three of them lined up along the side of the pool and dived in. Unfortunately the point at which the claimant dived was shallower than where the other boys dived and he sustained a broken neck and was permanently paralysed. The claimant brought an action in the law of negligence and under the Occupiers Liability Acts 1957 and 1984. The trial judge held that the claimant was a trespasser since he was not permitted to go into the pool and that the College owed a duty of care under the 1984 Act since the pool had often been used by students in the prohibited hours so the College should have been aware that the claimant was within a class of persons who may come into the danger. The breach was in not taking more preventative action to prevent use of the pool. The claimant’s damages were, however, reduced by 60% under the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945. The defendants appealed contending the evidence relied on by the claimant in terms of repeated trespass all took place before 1990 before they started locking the gates.


The appeal was allowed. The claimant was not entitled to compensation.

The defendant had taken greater steps to reduce trespass by students since 1990. The only incidence of trespass to the pool in the four years prior to the claimant’s injury, related to students from a visiting college and therefore there was no reason for the college to suspect the students had come into the danger so no duty of care arose under s.1(3)(b) Occupiers Liability Act 1984. Also the trial judge had incorrectly identified the danger. The pool itself was not dangerous it was the activity of diving into it which was unsafe. This was an obvious danger to which there was no duty to warn. By surrounding the pool with a 7 foot high fence, a locked gate and a prohibition on use of the pool in the stated hours the College had offered a reasonable level of protection.
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