Theme park owners fined £40k over injury to girl

The case was heard at York Crown Court.
The case was heard at York Crown Court.

The owners of a major theme park have been fined £40,000 after a little girl suffered horrific injuries on one of its rides.

The five-year-old suffered crushing injuries to her ankle after her leg was caught in a gap between the carriage and the edge of a disembarking platform on a children’s rollercoaster at Lightwater Valley.

York Crown Court heard that safety breaches on the ride had exposed the youngster and other children to a risk of harm.

Lightwater Valley Attractions Ltd, which runs the popular amusement park, admitted an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act and was fined £40,000.

The company was also ordered to pay £17,000 prosecution costs.

David Geary, 59, the self-employed engineer and experienced safety inspector hired to carry out a risk-assessment on the ride, denied one count of breaching health-and-safety regulations but was found guilty by a jury on Friday following a four-day trial.

Mr Geary, of Taff’s Well, Cardiff, was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay £2,500 costs.

Barrister Sam Green, prosecuting on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said the little girl was in a carriage near the front of the Ladybird Juvenile ride with her 15-year-old cousin.

After the first lap, she let out a piercing scream as her carriage passed the disembarking platform.

Her right leg, protruding from the open side of the carriage, was caught in the tiny gap between the carriage and disembarking stage and was dragged along the edge of the wooden platform for about 15 metres, scraping the skin off her ankle.

The ride went on another lap as her cousin tried to comfort the terrified child.

The little girl’s parents, together with an off-duty nurse and a first-aid man, rushed to her aid.

She was taken to hospital where she underwent two operations.

One was to apply skin grafts to her ankle, which had been shredded to the bone.

She suffered serious cartilage damage and a crushed tendon.

Some of the injuries were likely to be permanent, including progressive foot deformity.

Five years on, she is facing the prospect of yet more surgery.

Mr Geary – hired for his expertise in assessing older rides such as the Ladybird Juvenile, which was built in 1983 and bought by Lightwater Valley in 1993 – carried out a “maturity risk assessment” of the rollercoaster in 2006.

But “completely failed” to flag up the risk of “lower-leg entrapment” or even the most basic safety hazards, described by Mr Green as an “accident waiting to happen”.

He said the carriages had no sides or doors, only raised steps.

In addition the gap between the cars and the disembarking platform was too narrow.

Since the accident on June 5, 2012, the owners had implemented new safety measures on the ride at the behest of the HSE.

But Mr Green said there had been no communication between Mr Geary and the theme-park owners following his safety inspection, save for the engineer “chasing his invoice”.

Mr Geary’s barrister Tom Gent said the impact of his client’s criminal conviction would “damage his ability to find work in the future”.

The court heard that the little girl and her family, from New Zealand, had visited the attraction with their relatives in East Yorkshire where they were staying during a summer break.

Her father said his daughter’s devastating injuries had had a “tremendously adverse” effect on her and the wider family.

Barrister Iain Simkin, for Lightwater Valley Attractions, said his client “apologised unreservedly” for its safety failings and had an otherwise “thorough maintenance regime” for all rides.

Judge Andrew Stubbs QC said the “long-lasting” effects to her had affected the family financially.

“It has affected the whole of her life,” he added. “Her father says she has been robbed of many of her childhood pleasures which will never be returned to her.”

Mark Bainbridge, general manager at Lightwater Valley Attractions, said: “Our first thoughts are with the little girl and her

family.

“We have always been and continue to be committed to ensuring the health, safety and welfare of all our visitors and our employees.

“We fully complied with all requests made by the Health and Safety Executive and have co-operated throughout.

“Every year we welcome hundreds of thousands of people to the theme park and can assure all visitors to Lightwater Valley that their safety will always be of paramount importance.”

The case was heard at York Crown Court.