Alton Towers operator Merlin is facing a multi-million-pound fine after admitting a breach of health and safety rules over the rollercoaster crash which left five people seriously injured.
Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd had already accepted responsibility after an internal investigation following the incident which left two women needing leg amputations, when their carriage hit another stationary train-car on the track on June 2 last year.
It emerged a manual operator “overrode” the Smiler rollercoaster’s governing computer system, leading to the smash.
Indicating a guilty plea at North Staffordshire Justice Centre, Merlin’s counsel Simon Antrobus said: “The company is accepting additional reasonable and practicable measures could have been taken to guard against the safety risk that arose on the day.”
District Judge Jack McGarva warned the £250m (€320m)-a-year turnover company faced “very high culpability” over the incident and “may be ordered to pay a very large fine”.
Present during the hearing were the five most seriously injured victims and their families: Vicky Balch and Leah Washington, who each lost a leg in the crash, as well as Joe Pugh, Daniel Thorpe, and Chandaben Chauhan.
They listened from the public gallery as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which brought the case, said the ride had never had “a proper settled system” for staff to follow when carriages stopped on-track, since the ride opened.
Bernard Thorogood, for the HSE, told the court: “The Smiler rollercoaster came into operation in 2013 in May and in our schedule ran from then until the time of the accident at the beginning of June 2015 in a way that was not as safe as it should have been.”
Mr Thorogood said the serious nature of the injuries suffered and the potentially “very high level of fine” the case may attract, given Merlin’s multimillion-pound turn-over company, meant the case should be moved to a higher court.
The case was adjourned until a date to be fixed at Stafford Crown Court.
Lawyers representing some of the injured said Merlin’s plea was a “milestone” for the victims.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved