The owners of Alton Towers theme park face a multi-million pound fine following last summer’s Smiler crash.
Last Friday, April 22, in a hearing at North Staffordshire Justice Centre attended by victims of the crash, Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd indicated a guilty plea to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act.
No5 Chambers barrister Bernard Thorogood, representing the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which brought the case, pointed out that due to the serious nature of the injuries sustained in the accident and the very high fine likely to be imposed, the case should be moved to a higher court.
District Judge Jack McGarva agreed and adjourned until a date to be fixed at Stafford Crown Court.
Bernard Thorogood, for the HSE, said that since the ride opened in May 2013, there had not been a ‘a proper settled system’ for staff to follow when carriages stopped on-track, and that on the day of the smash a manual operator ‘overrode’ the ride’s controlling computer system, which had warned of the blockage.
Mr Thorogood said: “The upshot was that on June 2 although the computer-controlled system was correctly showing that at one of the farthest parts of the ride, the Cobra Loop, there was a stationary train, staff didn’t see it and there wasn’t a system to ensure that they did see it.
“They overrode the computer block on the system and sent the train around the ride. As a result those in the train were injured when their train came into collision with the stationary train.
“Those in the front row suffered the greatest physical injuries and were life-changing in many cases.”
District Judge McGarva said: “This is a case which involved a very high culpability on the part of the defendant in my view and exposed the victims to a high likelihood of very serious harm. This is a case involving a large organisation which may be ordered to pay a very high fine.”
The Smiler ride re-opened in March.
Bernard Thorogood is a member of the Regulatory & Licensing Group as well as the Inquests, Public Inquiries and Coronial Law group at No5 Chambers.
Called to the Bar in 1986, after a Short Service Commission in HM Forces, he practises in the most serious categories of Health and Safety and other Regulatory cases.