Alton Towers sentenced for Health and Safety Breach
The owners of Alton Towers (Merlin Attractions) have been fined £5million with costs of nearly £70,000 following a rollercoaster crash that left more than 15 people injured. Two of the most seriously injured had limbs amputated.
The incident occurred on the 2nd June 2015, when the rollercoaster collided with a stationary carriage on the track.
Stafford Crown Court heard how, on the day of the incident, staff overrode the rollercoaster’s control system without adequate knowledge and understanding to ensure it was safe to do so.
Health and Safety officials concluded the cause of the accident was a lack of detailed and robust arrangements for making critical safety decisions.
Why were Merlin Attractions prosecuted?
Merlin Attractions were prosecuted under section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Section 3(1) states:
‘…It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety…’
In essence, the charge levied against Merlin Attractions was that it had failed to conduct its undertaking, namely Alton Towers, in such a way as to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that persons not in its employment i.e. visitors, were not exposed to risks associated with the operation of the rollercoaster.
The Health and Safety Executive commented:
“This avoidable incident happened because Merlin failed to put in place systems to allow engineers to work safely on the ride while it was running.
This made it all too easy for a whole series of unchecked mistakes, not just one push of a button, to result in tragic consequences”
Sentencing Guidelines | Health and Safety Breaches|Kangs Solicitors Health and Safety Team
To the dissatisfaction of many, not least the victims of the crash, Merlin Attractions were fined just £5million and, although this on first glance may seem like pocket change to a company that turns over £400million, the fine was in fact at the very top end of the sentencing guidelines for this type of offence.
Despite the accident taking place in 2015, the sentencing of this offence was subject to new sentencing guidelines which only came into force in February of this year. The guidelines make clear that the Court must follow the sentencing guidelines unless it would be contrary to the interests of justice.
It’s not clear, without knowing all of the facts, the level of culpability the Court attributed to Merlin Attractions when determining the sentencing category.
Looking at the four culpability categories of low, medium, high and very high, one would imagine the level of culpability was determined as high.
It is with a little more certainty that these types of offences are likely to be determined to have a harm categorisation of 1 or 2.
Further, it is clear that not only did the offending behaviour expose a number of members of the public to the risk of harm but the offending behaviour was a significant cause of the actual harm.
Given the above considerations and the fact that Merlin Attractions is classified as a large company for the purposes of the sentencing guidelines (turnover of £50million or more) the category range of fine is between £1.5million and £6million.
It should, in fact, be noted that the judge would have imposed a fine of £7.5million (taking it outside the category range) but reduced it to £6million to take account of Merlin Attractions guilty plea.
It is clear, therefore, that the Court considered there to be further aggravating features that justified exceeding the category range.
How Can Kangs Solicitors Help?| Health and Safety Solicitors
Kangs Solicitors have specialist lawyers who have a proven track record of representing both corporate organisations and individuals who face prosecution for breaches of Health and Safety law.
Whether you are a company facing the prospect of a fine, whether it be large or small, or an individual who faces a custodial prison sentence, we can help ensure that you are guided through the litigation process with confidence and ensure that you receive the best possible outcome.
Who can I contact for advice? | Kangs Solicitors can help
Please feel free to contact our Team of Regulatory lawyers who specialise in Health and Safety Law through one of the following: