Owners of local tourist attractions would be wise to review their Health and Safety procedures warn local Solicitor Shaun Underhill, a partner at Shentons Solicitors and Mediators in Winchester. Recently, the owners of historic Warwick Castle failed to overturn a £350,000 fine and £145,000 costs order imposed for health and safety breaches that led to the death of a pensioner who toppled head-first into a moat during a visit. Despite the attraction’s generally good safety record, the penalty was ‘within the appropriate’, the Court of Appeal ruled.
Merlin Attractions Operations Limited, which acquired the Grade 1* listed castle in 1978, was prosecuted after 72-year-old George Townley suffered fatal head injuries in the December 2007 tragedy while exiting the monument; he was crossing the Bear and Clarence Bridge when he tripped over a low parapet wall.
The company was in April 2012 convicted of two offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and, in passing sentence, the judge observed that safety failings in relation to the bridge represented an ‘uncharacteristic blind spot which had fatal consequences’.
Dismissing the company’s appeal against sentence, the Court of Appeal stated: “Notwithstanding the company’s generally good health and safety systems, its good record and the other mitigating features…it seems to us that the judge was entitled to conclude that the total fine…had to be measured in hundreds of thousands of pounds.”
“The judge was clearly entitled to conclude that there had been a serious breach of the company’s health and safety systems and that that had resulted in an obvious danger of at least serious injury, not so much in relation to adults but in relation to children, to which a very large number of people had been exposed over many years”.
“I urge all local attractions to take a fresh look at their facilities to identify any similar ‘blind spots’” says Shaun Underhill.