Sunday 17 December 2017

Alton Towers operator is facing £10m fine for crash

The Smiler ride reopened at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire Picture: PA
The Smiler ride reopened at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire Picture: PA

Richard Vernalls

The Smiler rollercoaster crash which left five passengers with life-changing injuries at a popular UK theme park was like a 90mph car accident, a court has heard.

Alton Towers operator Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd is facing a fine of up to £10m (€11.5m) - possibly more - after admitting a breach of health and safety legislation on the thrill-ride.

Vicky Balch, then aged 19, and Leah Washington, then 17, who each lost a leg in the crash in June of last year, and several other people who were trapped for hours, attended Stafford Crown Court in the English midlands yesterday for the sentencing hearing.


Prosecuting, Bernard Thorogood told the court that the passengers on the £18m rollercoaster watched with "disbelief and horror" as they realised that they were going to collide with an empty carriage.

He said the kinetic energy involved in the crash was equivalent to "a family car of 1.5 tons colliding at about 90mph".

Losses of the parent company as a result of the smash were laid bare by Merlin's barrister, Simon Antrobus, who said there had been a £14m drop in revenue overall.

He said the company had "got the message" on health and safety, having accepted that it had fallen "far short" of the standards required.

Opening the case, Mr Thorogood said the test carriage had been sent around the ride but had come to rest in a valley of the track, unseen by ride staff.

The engineers had overridden a computer system which they believed had halted the ride in error and sent a full car along to the track and into the path of the empty carriage.

"The subsequent collision was plain to see to some in the train and I refer to those in the front row's statements, where they speak of their disbelief and horror as they saw ahead up the track the train into which they were going to dive," he said.

Mr Thorogood said that while the mistakes which led to the crash were made by individuals, the ultimate responsibility lay with their employers.

The theme park operator is due to be sentenced today.

Irish Independent

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