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December 1, 2009

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Fairground ride was not suitable for use

Eight people were injured after a fairground ride that had been declared safe collapsed at a bonfire display in Suffolk.

Ipswich Crown Court heard that at the Annual Big Night Out event in Long Melford on 2 November 2007 several cars on the Hellraiser ride – a ground-level spinning machine – came loose and crashed into each other.

Firefighters cut free two people who were trapped by the cars, and a 24-year-old woman who suffered broken ribs and damage to her spine , and several others suffered minor injuries.

The HSE seized the ride and sent it to a specialist to investigate the cause of the accident. The inspection found that various parts of the machine were in poor condition, and determined that the accident occurred because the couplings that secured metal bars separating the cars broke, causing a number of the cars to collide.

The HSE issued a Prohibition Notice against the ride on 4 Dec 2007, which required the structure to undergo extensive maintenance before it could be returned to service. HSE inspector Martin Kneebone said: “This incident could have proved fatal. High standards of maintenance and inspection are absolutely essential to ensure the safe operation of any ride.”
Independent fairground examiner Frederick Meakin and his company, Fairground Inspections Services, had inspected the ride on 15 June 2007 and failed to recognise that the deteriorating parts of the ride could pose a risk. Following the inspection, he issued a Declaration of Operational Compliance on the ride, which recognised it as being safe for use.

Meakin appeared in court on 30 November and pleaded guilty to breaching s37 of the HSWA 1974. He was fined £2000 and ordered to pay £1000 in costs. Fairground Inspection Services pleaded guilty to a breach of s3(1) of the same Act and was fined £8000 and £1000 in costs.

The ride owner, Walter Shufflebottom, was present at the same hearing and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(2) of the HSWA 1974. He was fined £2000, but no costs were awarded due to his lack of means.

In mitigation, Shufflebottom said he had no previous convictions and had fully complied with the HSE’s investigation. He stressed that Meakin should have identified the defects during his examination of the ride, and he had trusted the findings of the inspection. The ride has subsequently been scrapped, as it would have cost too much to repair.

Meakin mitigated that he had 30 years’ experience and this was an isolated incident. He accepted that he had failed to identify the risks posed by some parts of the ride that were in a poor condition. But he also pointed out that these failings had not been picked up during a previous destruction testing report, which was carried out by another company.

Inspector Kneebone concluded: “The Hellraiser ride was in a very poor state of repair and should not have been operating at the event. The Big Night Out could have so easily ended in tragedy. Some of the key structural components had deteriorated to such an extent that they were no longer safe and had been inappropriately repaired over a significant period of time. Neither the owner of the ride nor the examiner took appropriate action to remedy this problem, which ultimately resulted in the ride collapsing.

“This incident should remind all amusement-ride owners and ride examiners that public safety is of paramount importance.”


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