Saturday 22 October 2016

Owners of Alton Towers fined £5m for 'Smiler' crash

Richard Vernalls

Published 28/09/2016 | 02:30

Alton Towers theme park Smiler ride accident victim Leah Washington leaves Stafford Crown Court
Alton Towers theme park Smiler ride accident victim Leah Washington leaves Stafford Crown Court
Alton Towers theme park Smiler ride accident victim Vicky Balch arrives at Stafford Crown Court
The Smiler ride reopened at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire Picture: PA

Alton Towers operator Merlin Attractions has been fined £5 million (€5.8m) for a "catastrophic failure" of health and safety rules over the 'Smiler' rollercoaster crash.

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Two teenagers - Vicky Balch, then 19, and Leah Washington, then 17 - could have bled to death from their injuries and each ended up losing a leg after the collision in June last year.

A mother-of-two who was on the ride with her grown-up daughters welcomed the "justice" of the fine, but said the physical and mental impact of the crash continued.

The victims, left suspended in the ride 20ft (6m) above ground for up to five hours, are now expected to seek civil compensation.

Lawyers for eight of those hurt said the fine was believed to be the largest of its kind for a leisure industry company.

Stafford Crown Court had heard that the passengers watched with "disbelief and horror" before ploughing into an empty carriage on the track, with the impact likened to a 145kmh car crash.

The court was told that engineers overrode the computer system which had correctly stopped the ride because they believed it was an error, allowing the passenger carriage to collide with the empty car.

The company was fined after a HSE investigation found an engineer "felt pressure" to get Smiler back into service after it developed a fault shortly before the devastating crash.

However, Merlin rejected any suggestion that it put money before public safety.

Judge Michael Chambers QC said the "obvious shambles of what occurred" could have been "easily avoided" by a suitable written system to deal with ride faults and a proper risk assessment.

The judge added: "This was a needless and avoidable accident in which those injured were fortunate not to have been killed or bled to death.

"Those in the front row bore the brunt of the collision and had their legs crushed."

Lawyers for Merlin said the company had seen a £14 million drop in revenue as a result of the crash, and had "got the message", making 30 changes to safety measures, equipment and training.

The Smiler reopened earlier this year.

Irish Independent

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