A POT-BELLIED scout leader who broke his back sliding down a fireman's pole in front of his troop has been awarded almost £170,000 compensation by a High Court judge.
Robert Wilson, 49, fractured a vertebrae when he "landed on his bottom" after careering down the ten-foot pole, which was part of Clyne Farm Centre's Challenge Valley assault course, in Mayals, near Swansea, in August, 2009.
He was helicoptered to hospital after coming to grief on the "Burma Bridge" obstacle and, despite major surgery, his work as a taxi driver and as a carer for his seriously disabled wife was said to have been seriously curbed by his injury.
Mr Wilson, of New Road, Whitehill, near Bordon, Hampshire — who described himself as a "fat taxi driver", unfit and weighing in at 13-and-a-half stone — said he had been worried about the pole descent but relied on a "highly confident" instructor who reassured him he would be fine.
Yesterday, Mrs Justice Swift rejected claims that Mr Wilson was the "author of his own misfortune" and described as "entirely fanciful" claims that he had released his handhold on the pole while showing off in front of his troop.
She found that the 24-year-old instructor had failed to demonstrate how to safely descend the pole in the wet conditions or to instruct Mr Wilson in the correct technique before he "hit the deck" and immediately experienced agony.
Mr Wilson earlier said of the instructor: "She said, 'Just go out and give the pole a big hug, hug it tight.'
"I then said that I wasn't very fit, that I was a fat taxi driver at 13-and-a-half stone, and are you sure about this? She said to just give it a big hug."
Describing Mr Wilson as a "thoroughly genuine and honest individual" who had done his best to give an accurate account of events leading up to the accident, the judge said of the instructor, by contrast, "I did not find her an impressive witness".
Geoff Haden, trading as Clyne Farm Centre, was ordered to pay Mr Wilson £167,514 damages, including £25,000 for his "pain, suffering and loss of amenity" and other sums for his lost earnings and the extra assistance he will need due to his permanent injury.
The judge said she had no doubt that Mr Wilson "is a genuine, hard-working man" who had devoted himself to the care of his wife, who was confined to a wheelchair by a childhood condition, and their four-year-old son.
Lawyers for Mr Haden, a chartered structural engineer, had told the court that he devised the assault course with the help of an Army instructor and that, since it opened more than 20 years ago, it had been used by 300,000 people, half of them children, without any similar accidents.