26 March 2009
Today the three parties involved in the Dreamspace tragedy which lead to the deaths of Anne Collings and Claire Furmedge have been sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court by Mrs Justice Laura Cox.
During a five week trial the court heard evidence that demonstrated a catalogue of failure, incompetence and complacency on the part of the three parties involved.
These failings led to shocking breaches of basic health and safety measures which ultimately caused the deaths of Anne and Claire.
The three parties are:
, the artist who designed and erected the structure. On 24 February 2009 the jury reached a unanimous guilty verdict on charges brought against Agis under section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
After a five week trial the jury was unable to reach either a unanimous or majority verdict on the charge of gross negligence manslaughter. The Crown Prosecution Service did not request a re-trial. Whilst it was not open to doubt that the structure had been lifting earlier in the day and should have been closed, the Defence cast some doubt on the prosecution’s case relating to evidential matters concerning the anchoring of the structure. Regardless of this issue, the structure was clearly inadequately secured.
The Judge ordered Agis be fined £10,000. In commenting she said this was much lower than was warranted in the circumstances but took into account his limited financial means.
The families of Anne Collings and Claire Furmedge are at a complete loss to understand how such a catalogue of incompetence and lack of care by Maurice Agis did not result in a manslaughter conviction. The families believe that Maurice Agis' refusal to answer any police questions during the investigation and his failure to give evidence at trial was a calculated and cowardly attempt to conceal key facts about the tragedy known only to him.
council were responsible for inviting Agis to bring Dreamspace to Riverside Park and crucially in charge of assessing the safety of the structure. They were charged and pleaded guilty under Section 31 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and were fined £20,000. In commenting the Judge stated that the council’s scrutiny of the application to exhibit the Dreamspace structure was wholly inadequate but that a greater fine would serve only to punish the local community.
The families feel that the council’s reluctance to publicly accept responsibility for what happened, until a few weeks before the trial started, has extended their suffering further.
Brouhaha International Limited
, the event management company run by Maurice Agis’ son Giles, were also intrinsically involved in staging the event. They were charged and pleaded guilty to Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety Act at Work Act 1974 and fined £4,000. In commenting the Judge took into account that the company is impecunious.
The families’ said today:
“Anne and Claire were killed in the most appalling circumstances when the 50 metre square structure upended and became airborne. Their deaths were caused by a catalogue of failures, complacency and incompetence on the part of Maurice Agis, the artist who designed and erected the structure, Chester-le-Street District Council who were responsible for bringing it to Riverside Park and ensuring the public’s safety and Brouhaha International, the event management company run by Agis’ son.
In the two and a half years since this tragedy our families have been repeatedly shocked to learn of the level of neglect which led to our loved ones’ deaths.
The two families are relieved that this process is over but extremely disappointed and angry that the artist was not convicted of gross negligence manslaughter charges following a five week trial. We feel that the decision by the CPS not to retry the case means that the criminal justice system has let us down."
At the families’ request, Durham Constabulary has agreed to work with the Health & Safety Executive to review the evidential issues which led to the CPS’s decision not to retry Maurice Agis.
"We would like to thank all those people who have helped and continue to help us through this most traumatic time.
Our sincere hope is that important lessons have been learned to ensure that such an appalling tragedy is not allowed to happen again.”
Sally Moore the families' Solicitor said today:
"No amount of money will ever reflect the loss of Anne and Claire's lives. However, the insignificant awards made today convey the perception that life is cheap and have no deterrent value whatsoever."
For more information please contact Sally Moore
on 020 7650 1225 or Vijay Ganapathy
on 020 76501341
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