Family stunned as thieves steal memorial money for young climber who died in Alps

Climber Gary Brownhill
Climber Gary Brownhill

A SHEFFIELD family has been devastated by the theft of £1,400 of donations and sponsorship in memory of a climber who died this year in an accident in the French Alps.

The money - for the James Brownhill Memorial Fund - was stolen in a break-in at James’ girlfriend’s house in Manchester.

The blow came as his parents, Gary and Christine, twin brother Joe and older brother Tom, were preparing to visit Chamonix, where the accident happened in July, on what would have been the 23rd birthday of the avid climber and mountaineer.

Unless the money is returned or other cash is raised to compensate, it will knock two years off the predicted lifespan of the fund, which aims to encourage a higher level of safety, good practice and sustainability within university climbing clubs.

After the generosity shown by family friends and work colleagues in raising thousands of pounds in James’ name, Gary described the theft as “massively disappointing.“The loss is one thing, but it’s the fact so many bad things can happen in such a short period of time.”

The family is hoping for the “very remote chance” that the burglars will feel remorse once they find out what the money was to be used for, or that they will be caught as a result of being seen “flush” with the sterling and euros that were taken.

Bursaries are to be given in memory of James, who had climbed since the age of 17, regularly with Joe and occasionally with Tom.

Since 2007, James had been to the Chamonix region each year and summited Mont Blanc twice, last year with Joe..

It is thought he fell more than 2,500ft near the resort of Chamonix with climbing partner David Evans, from Liverpool, who also died.

Climbers and other friends from Holland, Norway, France, Germany and other countries attended James’ funeral at Grenoside Crematorium.

The money was stolen from the house of his girlfriend, Sinead Ennis, aged 24, who had taken part in a number of sponsored activities in her home country of southern Ireland, including a sprint triathlon, and from other events, such as the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge.

Thieves ransacked the property, which Sinead shared with two other tenants, after breaking in through patio doors on Tuesday afternoon, taking the cash as well as cameras and laptops.

“She had got all the euros and sterling from sponsorship and donations, and because she was working, she never got to the bank,” said Gary, an accountant, who lives with Christine, a district nurse, at Lodge Moor. “There was the best part of £1,400.

“We hope the people realise it is not just a case of taking the money but there will be ramifications.”

The fund is designed to award new and inexperienced climbers with bursaries so they can take courses to develop safe climbing practice.

“James will be greatly missed but through this fund we hope to preserve a passion and attitude to safe climbing that James constantly upheld,” say his family.

Initially the fund was due to run for five years but the success of fundraising extended itslifespan to nine years.

“People’s generosity has been fantastic,” said Gary.

Now that lifespan has dropped to seven years as a result of the theft.

Manchester Police say the break-in was between 7.30am and 3.15pm, and it is thought three men were involved.

The fund’s website is