Alton Towers owners Merlin have been fined £5 million after a crash on the Smiler rollercoaster left five people seriously injured.
The company had been warned to expect a very large fine after indicating a guilty plea to a charge of breaching health and safety regulations after the collision, which occurred on June 2, 2015.
A two-day sentencing hearing at Stafford Crown Court began yesterday and the company has now been fined £5 million and ordered to pay costs of £69,955.40 after the crash, which left 16 people injured.
Vicky Balch and Leah Washington both suffered leg amputations and others, including Daniel Thorpe from Buxton, suffered severe injuries when their carriage collided with a stationary carriage on the same track on 2 June 2015.
Stafford Crown Court heard that on the day of the incident engineers overrode the Smiler’s control system without the knowledge and understanding to ensure it was safe to do so.
A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found no fault with the track, the cars, or the control system that keeps the cars apart from each other when the ride is running.
Investigators found the root cause to be a lack of detailed, robust arrangements for making safety critical decisions. The whole system, from training through to fixing faults, was not strong enough to stop a series of errors by staff when working with people on the ride.
Following the incident Alton Towers made technical improvements to the ride and changed their systems.
Merlin Attractions Operation Ltd of 3 Market Close, Poole, Dorset pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act etc, 1974 and were fined £5million with costs of £69,955.40.
Neil Craig, head of operations for HSE in the Midlands said: “People visiting theme parks should be able to enjoy themselves safely. On 2 June last year Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd failed to protect their customers, they badly let them down.
“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.
“Since the incident Alton Towers have made improvements to the ride and their safety protocols, and the lessons learned have been shared industry wide.”
Responding to the sentencing, David Walker, leisure safety manager for RoSPA, said: “RoSPA believes that more serious offences should be met with more punitive measures to help deter potential future health and safety breaches, such as this incident which left five people with serious, life-changing injuries.
“This is one of the first significantly-sized companies affected by new sentencing guidelines.
“Prior to February 1, judges and magistrates were limited in the sentences they could hand down for cases like this, which tend to be extremely complex and serious in nature.
“Now courts are able to hand out tougher sentences that are consummate to the level of health and safety breach.
“We are pleased that the guidelines and sentences have been brought in line with other corporate offences, such as the kinds of fines handed out for environmental breaches.”