Roll Call – Issue 3

Issue 3

Our third edition focuses on the damaging reputational challenges faced by two major British institutions and a negative misplacement of focus by the office of the Mayor of London.

The Scouts fly in the face of their famous motto


Some decades ago, I used to spend Wednesday evenings, the odd weekend and an annual overseas summer camp with the Cubs and then with the Scouts, as a member of the 8th Hampstead Troop, led by Anthony Frais and his son, Ian. My time under their leadership was a lot of fun, hugely formative (I was a Patrol Leader) and many of the life skills I learned as a child I still very much practise to this day. As a gang of energetic and mostly well-behaved boys that went on many adventures, at no point in my time with the Scouts did I ever feel that my life could be in danger or that I was suddenly in a position of threat.

I was shocked to learn an inquest has concluded that two Scout leaders were responsible for the death of 16-year-old Ben Leonard, who slipped and fell off a cliff while on an expedition in North Wales in 2018. Even more disturbing is that this was the second inquest into Mr. Leonard’s death as the first was discontinued because the Scout Association had created a ‘misleading impression’ by initially failing to provide the court with full information.

Details of the case outlined in an in-depth report in the Sunday Times (subscription required) highlight how the Scout Association chose to inform its press office of Ben’s demise prior to informing his parents and how they had lied to Ben’s family. The Scout leaders in charge of the fateful trip to Great Orme that day in 2018 were woefully undertrained from safety, first aid and expedition-planning perspectives, while those higher up in the Association decided against suspending the leaders following the tragic accident.

The coroner Mr David Purjour, assistant coroner for north-east Wales, was highly critical of the Scouts’ response to Ben’s death, saying that there is “not a culture of candour” within the organisation and “the impact that this has on safety and safeguarding”. More damningly, he stated that: “(issuing) a press release within moments of the jury’s conclusion demonstrates a failure of the Scout Association to accept any accountability and understanding any proper learning from Ben’s death.”

According to another media report one of the leaders of the fateful trip felt that ‘he’d been hung out to dry’ by the Scouts, further damaging the association’s reputation.


The recent media coverage of the inquest’s findings into Mr. Leonard’s death has brought other tragic cases of young men dying while away with the Scouts, some going back decades. While tragic accidents can occur when pushing the envelope in the name of adventure, something I certainly tried to do when presented with the opportunity as a boy, the Scout Association’s initial reaction and approach was unacceptable and utterly wrong. There is no greater crisis than when people are injured or killed and any misstep must rightly be called out and investigated thoroughly to prevent further occurrence.


In my experience and as I have mentioned in a previous post, there is always a warning shot before a crisis occurs. The fact that lessons from numerous previous fatalities were ignored time and again should encourage the Scout Association to use this as a watershed moment.  Their statement points to a commitment to learning alongside new guidelines to ensure safety at all times, while it’s high time the Scouts remember and take their ‘Be Prepared’ motto into affirmative and consistent action from now on. It would be a pity if young adults and their parents were put off for good from the valuable lifelong benefits that scouting can bring.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution navigates the choppy waters of internal politics


Another more singular childhood memory of mine is spending a grey and dull Saturday morning marching round and round Holland Park in aid of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

Celebrating its 200-year anniversary recently, the Institution was formed when Sir William Hillary took it upon himself to do something about the dozens of shipwrecks he was witnessing off the Manx coast, where he lived in Douglas on the Isle of Man. Run entirely on voluntary donations, to date the RNLI has saved more than 142,700 lives at sea. The organisation has 10,000 operational volunteers, 20,000 fundraising volunteers and more than 1,800 staff.

While the bicentennial milestone has been acknowledged up and down the country, including a ceremony at Westminster Abbey, the mood of celebration has been sullied by reports of infighting and bullying, and of the institution harbouring a toxic culture. The situation focuses on the ousting of more senior staff with decades of experience by management encouraged by eager junior staff impatiently intent on changing protocols, as well as reported accusations of bullying, assault and misconduct by volunteers.


For a charity that provides arguably the most tangible and immediate example of benevolence, reports of malpractice and mistreatment of people who have dedicated significant parts of their lives voluntarily for the cause is disappointing and depressing. Rescuing people at sea is dangerous and every time Lifeboat crews head out to hopefully return safely having saved lives they will learn something new as no two situations are the same. This kind of experience built up over many years is invaluable and can’t be taught. To jettison it for the sake of internal politics makes no sense.


The accusations by the whistle-blowers are not a recent occurrence and it seems the story has been held back until the newsworthiness of the bicentennial. The fact that it has been festering for more than five years points to a damaging stand-off. The RNLI have adopted more defensive communications to try and set the story straight, while those who blew the whistle, having dedicated many years to demanding and dangerous voluntary service, continue to feel aggrieved.

London Mayor’s Office misunderstands its priorities


London Mayor Sadiq Khan divides opinion. Some people I know think he has done wonders for London and has effected ‘real change’, whatever that means. Others think he has long been addicted to publicity stunts and virtue-signalling, spending vast amounts of his energy and public money on promoting himself and his office. Recently, my attention was drawn to the supposed success, or seeming lack thereof, of the London Night Tsar Amy Lamé, who has come under scrutiny for overseas trips and significant salary rises, while London’s nightlife industry struggles.

More seriously lives continue to be threatened as aggressive street thieves turn to bike-jacking of elite-grade bicycles, which follows a significant period of street watch thefts that turned parts of London into no-go areas for international businessmen. While a Metropolitan Police operation was successful in arresting 31 individual watch robbers and convicting 26, a look at the Instagram page Watch Crime London indicates that the problem is far from solved.


London has been voted as the best city in the world for the ninth year in a row, one year longer that Mr Khan’s tenure as Mayor of London. After the eerie emptiness of 2020 and 2021 the tourists are back and the city seems more buzzy than ever. However, the rising threat of street theft has become a blight to Londoners, leaving them in fear.


While visitor revenue is obviously vital, anyone who calls London home should always feel safe wherever they roam, regardless of their financial status. The news that Mr. Khan will be investing an additional £151 million in policing and crime prevention in 2024-25 is obviously ‘good news’ and in my opinion, much more the kind of story that should be released by his office. The sooner the threat of ‘zombie knife’ wielding thieves is quashed by effective and astute policing enabled by proper investment and focus the better. Mayor Khan has talked about the continued haunting of London following the despicable and tragic case of Sarah Everard. Eradicating knife-wielding thugs for good will go some way to restoring credibility in the effectiveness of the Metropolitan Police.

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