Wednesday 26 July 2017

Stunt show director to be sentenced over human cannonball death

Undated family handout file photo of stuntman Matthew Cranch, 24, a
Undated family handout file photo of stuntman Matthew Cranch, 24, a "human cannonball" killed during a stunt show in Detling, Kent, in 2011 after he was fired out of a cannon during a show. Photo: Family handout/PA Wire

Tom Pugh

A stunt company director will be sentenced today over health and safety breaches following the death of a human cannonball who was killed after being fired into the air at a show.

Stuntman Matthew Cranch, 24, died after suffering multiple injuries when a safety net intended to break his fall collapsed as he hurtled to the ground.

He had been fired from a lorry-mounted cannon in front of hundreds of spectators during Scott May's Daredevil Stunt Show at the Kent County Showground in Detling on April 25 2011.

In July, Mr Cranch's boss Scott May, 40, of Stunts UK Ltd, pleaded guilty at Maidstone Magistrates' Court to a health and safety charge. A guilty plea was also entered on behalf of Stunts UK Ltd.

Prosecutors said May, of Higher Bosavern, St Just, near Penzance, Cornwall, had "failed to discharge the duty" as an employer to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of employees, including Mr Cranch.

A part-heard sentencing hearing at Maidstone Crown Court on Monday was told a mechanism which triggered the release of the safety net was not properly set.

It could be unintentionally falsely closed, leading to the net dropping when the lorry recoiled upon firing of the cannon, the court was told.

Mark Watson, prosecuting, said the mechanism was only intended to be released when the stuntman had been caught in the net.

File photo dated 20/01/15 of stunt company director Scott May who will be sentenced today over health and safety breaches following the death of a human cannonball who was killed after being fired into the air at a show. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
File photo dated 20/01/15 of stunt company director Scott May who will be sentenced today over health and safety breaches following the death of a human cannonball who was killed after being fired into the air at a show. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

But Mr Watson said: "In summary, there was simply no need for there to be a quick release mechanism attached to this safety net in those circumstances. It introduced a wholly unacceptable level of risk in relation to this stunt which was unnecessary in practice."

An inquest jury last year ruled Mr Cranch's death was an accident.

In footage shown at the inquest, one of Mr Cranch's colleagues was heard giving a "3, 2, 1" countdown on the public address system before he shouted "fire".

Mr Cranch could then be seen being propelled from the cannon amid a cloud of pyrotechnic smoke as the safety net in front of him suddenly collapsed.

Despite efforts by medics, he died at Maidstone Hospital. Relatives had described Mr Cranch as a "free spirit" whose death they could "never accept or recover from".

Kent Police announced in December 2012 that no criminal prosecution would be brought over Mr Cranch's death and the matter was passed to Maidstone Borough Council, which prosecuted May and Stunts UK Ltd.

At Monday's sentencing hearing, Mr Watson said May had not deliberately breached his duty but he had "hands-on control", was responsible for safety and was present on the day of the tragedy.

In mitigation, Tanya Robinson, defending, said: "Mr May considered himself to be compliant with health and safety legislation at the time. He believed he had done enough to protect his members of staff."

Judge Jeremy Carey will sentence May and Stunts UK Ltd at Maidstone Crown Court from 10.15am.

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