Tragic death of Worksop woman

Gemma Wilson
Gemma Wilson

THE FATHER of a ‘beautiful and talented’ woman from Worksop who died in a tragic horse accident has said that he will continue to ‘fight for justice’ after her inquest.

Gemma Louise Wilson died on 4th November 2009 whilst on holiday in South Africa with her fiancé James Langton.

Gemma, 24, of Leeds, and formerly of Hemmingfield Crescent, Worksop, lived in the area for 18 years and attended Prospect Hill and Valley Comprehensive schools before going to Aston University in Birmingham where she was a ‘star graduate’.

An inquest at Nottingham Council House on Wednesday 18th July heard that the couple were part of a group horse trek through the remote mountains near the Malealea Lodge in Lesotho, East South Africa. The court heard how there were a number of ‘health and safety lapses’ on behalf of the tour guides at the lodge, run by Expedition Africa which was formerly an agent of Imaginative Travel.

Not only were the tourists not offered helmets, but they were also not given safety advice on how to handle the animals. It took four hours for a helicopter ambulance to arrive after a great panic as no one had a mobile phone with a signal or was aware of the correct emergency phone number, procedure and no one had first aid training.

Gemma’s horse bolted as she hung from it with one foot trapped in a stirrup and she sustained ‘unavoidably’ fatal head injuries.

Gemma’s fiancé James Langton said: “This was a trip aimed at novice riders and I can say with 100 per cent certainty that we were not given any instructions on how to ride the horse.”

“The people on the ground weren’t trained. Why would they put us in that position?

Consultant neurologist Mr Ian Robertson told the court: “This was not the type of head injury that would have been stopped by a helmet. The injury was caused by the movement of the brain and not the impact of the fall.”

Martin Shapter was commercial director of Imaginative Travel in 2009, which has since become Peak Adventure.

He told the court that was unable to answer the extent to which they had investigated the availability of helmets, nor could he confirm whether a formal investigation had taken place following Gemma’s death. Mr Shapter said that the firm no longer used Expedition Africa as a supplier and now use their own in-house suppliers around the world for more quality control, ensuring better healthy and safety training and standards.

Notts Deputy Coroner Heidi Connor recorded a narrative verdict, saying: “I am satisfied that even if Gemma was wearing a helmet, the outcome would have been the same - but I must consider that in other situations this could be the difference between life and death.”

“The evidence is that helmets should have been offered as they were available on the day, but this simply did not happen.”

Speaking afterwards, Gemma’s father Stuart Wilson, 52, from the Scottish Borders, said that he did not accept the verdict or the findings of the inquest.

”I was looking for closure today, but that doesn’t appear to be the case,” he said. “I plan to sit down and discuss this with my family and I am looking to appeal this decision. Gemma was exceptional and was going to be successful. Her death was devastating and James and the whole family have been traumatised by this.

Mr Wilson added: “I wouldn’t stop my children from going on these adventure treks, but I want to ensure that the number one priority of these companies is the safety of their customers.”