Grieving mother whose son died in French lake blasts trip organisers

Grieving mother whose son, 16, died in French lake blasts trip organisers who didn’t even notice he was absent from group photo taken after he disappeared

  • Mother Natasha Burton blames trip organisers for the ‘loss of my baby’ in 2018
  • Harry Sykes, 16, was on tour with Halifax Elite Rugby Academy when he died 
  • His absence was only noticed several hours after he was last seen alive
  • Organiers Lee and Gareth Greenwood failed to make even a ‘cursory’ checks
  • Group photo was taken after Harry disappeared but no one noticed his absence
  • Senior coroner blasted the organisation of the trip as ‘inadequate’ and ‘slipshod’ 

A grieving mother whose son died on a rugby trip in France blasted organisers who had not even noticed he was absent from group photo taken after he disappeared.

The body of Harry Sykes, 16, was recovered by divers from Lake Cayavere near Carcassonne, in southern France during a trip with Halifax Elite Rugby Academy on September 5, 2018.

A furious Natasha Burton, a mum-of-two, said she blamed the organisers of the trip, brothers Lee and Gareth Greenwood, both former professional rugby players, for the ‘loss of my baby’. 

And now the senior coroner for the inquest into Harry’s death, Martin Fleming, said that, among a litany of basic failings, no one had even noticed Harry was not in a group photograph taken before they left the lake.

Mr Fleming lambasted the organisation of the trip as ‘inadequate’ and ‘slipshod’. 

The boys spent the day at the idyllic Lac de la Cavayère. This picture was taken after the disappearance of Harry Sykes, 16, yet no one noticed his absence 

Mum Natasha Burton with son Harry Sykes, who died on a French lake while on tour with Halifax Elite Rugby Academy in the south of France. ‘It was their responsibility and duty to make sure they knew where everyone was and that they were safe,’ Ms Burton said. ‘They shouldn’t be able to work with children again. They have no idea of the correct way to run an academy’

The boys spent the day at the idyllic Lac de la Cavayère, near the medieval town of Carcassonne, enjoying pedalos and water slides – but the alarm was raised when one of their number had gone missing at 8.30pm

After the hearing, which lasted the best part of two weeks, Mrs Burton told YorkshireLive: ‘I, as a mother, hold them responsible for his death. 

‘It was their responsibility and duty to make sure they knew where everyone was and that they were safe. 

‘They shouldn’t be able to work with children again. They have no idea of the correct way to run an academy.

‘I can tell you that I blame the Greenwoods for the loss of my baby. We are astounded that yet again justice has not been served for Harry. 

‘This was a tragic and unnecessary death. Harry continues to be missed by all his family and this is felt every day.’

The coroner of the inquest into Harry’s death Det Insp Tom Levitt, of West Yorkshire Police, who carried out an investigation into Harry’s death, said that the Greenwood brothers, who both have previous criminal convictions for unrelated matters, were arrested and interviewed on suspicion of manslaughter by gross negligence. 

However, the Crown Prosecution Service decided that there was insufficient evidence to pursue the matter. 

Mr Fleming said on Monday the organisation and preparation of the visit to the lake was poor and that a ‘cursory’ check of the beach would have alerted them to the fact that Harry’s bag and towel were still there.

He said: ‘This resulted in confusion and uncertainty with respect to supervision, which was at best, sporadic. 

‘The lack of headcounts showed significant flaws in supervision and enabled Harry to disappear.’ 

Harry Sykes, who was travelling with the Halifax Rugby League Academy, was last seen alive entering the water at around 1.30pm.

The lads from Halifax Elite Rugby Academy had enjoyed a sunny day on the lake before Harry went missing 

He said the Greenwood brothers were in breach of their duties, with failings including, ‘taking insufficient supervisors to the lake, failing to supervise boys properly at times, failing to designate a supervisor when leaving the beach, failing to conduct headcounts while on the beach.’ 

But, he said, ‘even if the ratio of supervision was as low as 1-10 or 1-6,’ it remains unclear whether close supervision would have enabled anyone to save Harry, as the circumstances and time of his death are still a mystery.

He went on: ‘There is no evidence he was at particular risk of drowning, no evidence he was in distress or called out for help.’ 

The inquest at Bradford Coroner’s Court heard Harry was found in two metres of water, 20 metres away from the beach.    

Harry Sykes from Bradford, West Yorkshire, who died at Lac de la Cavayère near Carcassonne, France, on September 5, 2018

The body of the 16-year-old was recovered after what had initially been an enjoyable day at the beach for more than 30 lads aged 16-plus. 

Harry had swam with a small group to some rocks and then had been seen playing volleyball in the water.

The inquest previously heard how Harry, a strong swimmer, was reported missing only after his team got back to the hotel and realised he had been left behind. 

One of the boys reported later that he had felt something ‘squishy’ under the water and it appeared that this was Harry’s body. 

But the boys thought it was perhaps a jellyfish and laughed off what would have been a grim discovery.

Mr Fleming recorded a narrative conclusion that ‘Harry suffered a cardiac event of uncertain origins while swimming and drowned in unclear circumstances when he was not observed to be in difficulties. 

‘It remains unclear whether if he had been seen and retrieved, it would have made any difference to the outcome.’

The academy was connected to Loughborough College and a spokesman said: ‘Our thoughts are with Harry’s family and anyone who knew him, following the conclusion of the inquest. 

‘Whilst it was made clear throughout the process that Harry was not a Loughborough College student and the college had no responsibility or powers in relation to the trip, any loss of a young life is a tragedy and our hearts go out to all affected.’

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