Health and safety failings led to crash at Alton Towers

Investigators from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which brought a prosecution against the owners of Alton Towers following a severe accident in June 2015, found a chain of errors that led staff to override a safety warning when an empty test carriage got stuck on the track in strong winds.

This was one of the main findings to emerge from a trial, which resulted in the owners being fined a record £5 million for the “catastrophic” rollercoaster crash that left five passengers with life-changing injuries and others seriously hurt.

The judge, Michael Chambers QC, said Merlin Attractions Operations’ safety procedures were “woefully inadequate” and a “shambles”. In his sentencing, the judge rejected Merlin’s assertion that the crash was down to “human error”. It was, he said, the company’s “catastrophic failure to assess risk and have a structured system of work”.

Investigators from the HSE found that staff overrode a safety warning when an empty test carriage got stuck on the track in strong winds. Engineers mistakenly believed the safety warning was a false alarm, the investigation found, and released the next carriage full of passengers, with the disastrous effect that it crashed at high speed into the empty test carriage.

Engineers were “doing their best in a flawed system”, the judge said, describing the lack of proper safety systems as “a serious breach of a high duty of care which put thousands at risk of death or serious injury over a long period of time and which caused devastating injuries to a significant number of people”.

Merlin’s chief executive, Nick Varney, repeated the company’s apology to the victims and offered them support “for as long as they need it” and added: “Alton Towers and the wider Merlin group are not emotionless corporate entities, they are made up of human beings who care passionately about what they do. In that respect the far bigger punishment for all of us is that on this occasion we let people down with such devastating consequences.”

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