The owner of Alton Towers has been told it faces a large fine after admitting responsibility for the Smiler rollercoaster crash. Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd admitted charges of breaching the Health and Safety Act. Victims of the crash, including one woman who likened the aftermath to a “horror movie”, were in court.
The firm’s counsel, Simon Antrobus, said it accepted it could have taken additional safety measures on the day. Two women had leg amputations after last June’s crash. In total, 16 people were hurt when a carriage on the ride crashed into another static car on the track. District Judge John McGarva, sitting at North Staffordshire Justice Centre, said the incident was a very serious case which led to life-changing injuries. Mr McGarva warned the firm it “may be ordered to pay a very large fine” when it is sentenced at Stafford Crown Court.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told the court that while the ride was mechanically safe, there were not systems in place to tell staff when a static ride was on the tracks. A static train was shown on the computer, the court heard, but a member of staff did not see it and overrode the computer. Merlin had previously admitted responsibility for the crash after carrying out an internal investigation into the incident. The five most seriously injured victims – Vicky Balch, Chanda Chauhan, Joe Pugh, Daniel Thorpe and Leah Washington – were all present in court with their families.
Paul Paxton, head of personal injury at Stewarts Law, which represents eight victims, said the guilty plea was “a milestone” for its clients, adding they were “not motivated by retribution”.
“It is comforting for the families that a plea of guilty has been entered rather than the victims having to endure a drawn out trial,” they said.
“Regrettably, the physical recovery will be a lifelong process.”
Neil Craig, HSE head of operations in the Midlands, also welcomed the guilty plea.
“The incident was profoundly distressing for everyone involved, both physically and mentally,” he said.
A spokesman for Merlin said the company took “responsibility” for the crash and “co-operated fully” with the HSE from the beginning of the investigation.
They added: “We have sought to provide help and support to all those injured in the accident and will continue to do so.”