Merlin sorry after £5m fine

The Smiler at Alston Towers
The Smiler at Alston Towers
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Alton Towers operator Merlin Attractions, which has major attractions in Blackpool, has been fined £5m for a “catastrophic failure” of health and safety rules over the Smiler rollercoaster crash.

Two teenagers, Vicky Balch, then 19, and Leah Washington, then 17, could have bled to death and each ended up losing a leg after the collision in June last year.

The victims, left suspended in the ride 20ft above ground for up to five hours, are now expected to seek civil compensation. Lawyers for eight of those hurt said the fine was believed to be the largest ever of its kind for a leisure industry company.

Stafford Crown Court was told that engineers overrode the computer system which had correctly stopped the ride because they believed it was an error, allowing the passenger carriage to collide with an empty car.

It was found that while the ride and control systems were sound, Merlin had failed to put in place proper systems and a suitable risk assessment for safe running leading.

Sentencing, Judge Michael Chambers QC said what occurred could have been “easily avoided” by a suitable written system to deal with ride faults and a proper risk assessment.

Lawyers for Merlin said the company had seen a £14m drop in revenue as a result of the crash, and had “got the message”, making 30 changes to safety measures, equipment and training. The Smiler reopened earlier this year.

After the hearing chief executive Nick Varney ignored questions from reporters as to whether he would step down. He again apologised and said bosses were “not emotionless corporate entities”.

“In that respect, the far bigger punishment for all of us is the knowledge that we let people down with such devastating consequences. It is something none of us will ever forget and it is something we are utterly determined will never be repeated.”