The owners of Alton Towers theme park, Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd. (Merlin), have admitted to breaching health & safety laws regarding the highly reported crash involving the park’s Smiler roller coaster last year.
Recap – Smiler Crash
On 2nd June 2015, four people were seriously injured on the Smiler ride when a cart carrying 16 people collided at speed with an empty test cart.
Passengers were suspended at a 45 degree angle over 7 meters off the ground and rescue efforts went on for over four hours. Fire crews had to erect a 25 ft. platform in order to allow emergency services to gain access to the injured passengers.
During the incident, two passengers – Leah Washington, 17, and Vicky Balch, 20 – sustained such serious injuries that they each required leg amputation. Leah and Vicky’s partners, Daniel Thorpe, 27, and Joe Pugh, 18, were also seriously injured in the crash. Daniel suffered leg injuries and a collapsed lung, whilst Joe’s knees were shattered during in the accident.
A fifth passenger, Chanda Chauhan, 49, was also treated following the crash after sustaining internal injuries and a further eleven passengers suffered whiplash injuries.
Last summer wasn’t the first time that the theme park had experienced issues with the Smiler roller coaster; there had previously been two issues not long after the ride opened in 2013.
In July of that year, just two months after the ride’s launch, a bolt came loose from the ride, causing a gap in the track. As a result the Smiler was temporarily closed and 48 people had to be rescued. Then in November 2013, wheels detached from the roller coaster and struck several passengers in the front carriage of the ride.
Nick Varney, Chief Executive of Merlin Entertainments, said in the immediate aftermath of the crash:
“Technically, it should be impossible for two cars to be on the same section of track at the same time”
“There are fail safe systems and break locks around tracks to make sure that only one car can be on a section of track at a time and clearly today that didn’t happen, and that is what we need to understand.”
“Reports that there were technical glitches on the ride this morning are ones that we have to look into, and at this moment in time I have no idea whether they were related to the final accident or not.”
Merlin accepted responsibility for the crash following an internal investigation, during which it emerged that the incident was caused due to ‘human error’. Staff – who could not see the stationary carriage on the track – overrode the ride’s safety measures, sending the carriage with passengers on a collision course with the empty carriage.
On 22 April 2016, Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd. pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. at North Staffordshire Justice Centre, Newcastle-under-Lyme.
District judge John McGarva said the firm faces a “very large fine” when it appears at Stafford crown court next month. The judge also added that there is a possibility that the fine could reach seven figures.
The company’s guilty plea is believed to make Alton Towers the first major theme park in the UK whose owners have admitted a criminal breach of health and safety laws.
Health & Safety Executive
Neil Craig, head of operations for HSE in the Midlands said:
“We welcome the guilty plea entered by Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd. Merlin has acknowledged that it failed in its legal duty to protect people on the Smiler ride.
“Those injured on 2 June last year had every right to expect a carefree and fun day out.
“The incident was profoundly distressing for everyone involved, both physically and mentally. It left some with life changing injuries.
“We hope this first milestone will help those affected to continue their recovery from this tragic incident.”
Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd. is to appear at Stafford court on 20 May for sentencing.
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