Alton Towers pleads guilty following Smiler crash
Smiler rollercoaster at Alton Towers, picture courtesy of @WMAS (West Midlands Ambulance Service)
The owner of Alton Towers, Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd, has admitted charges of health and safety breaches following an incident in June last year when one carriage of the Smiler rollercoaster crashed into an empty static carriage, leaving five people with catastrophic injuries.
In total, 16 people were hurt in the crash, with two women forced to have leg amputations.
The rollercoaster re-opened on 19 March.
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.
In court the firm’s counsel, Simon Antrobus, said it accepted it could have taken additional safety measures on the day.
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. It said that staff misunderstood a shutdown message and wrongly restarted the ride.
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.”