Anna Ryder Richardson wildlife park fined after falling tree bough hospitalised three-year-old boy

 

A wildlife park run by TV star Anna Ryder Richardson and her husband has been fined £70,000 for health and safety breaches.

Colin MacDougall, the celebrity interior designer's husband, received a further fine of £4,000 after he admitted to two identical breaches.

At Swansea Crown Court, MacDougall, 46, and Manor House Wildlife Park, west Wales, were ordered to pay a combined £111,000 in fines and costs in relation to the case.

Identical charges against Ryder Richardson were withdrawn last week on the eve of a three-week trial when MacDougall, and the company they jointly run, changed their pleas to guilty.

Gruff Davies-Hughes suffered serious head injuries at the attraction when he was hit by a tree bough when it was blown down in strong winds in August 2010.

The three-year-old spent three days fighting for his life in intensive care after being airlifted to Morriston Hospital, Swansea.

His mother Emme Davies-Hughes suffered head injuries and fractures to her leg, pelvis and arm.

The mother and son, from Llanelli, were among dozens of people visiting the wallaby enclosure at the time.

Judge Paul Thomas was scathing in his condemnation of MacDougall's attitude after the incident.

He said a refusal to close the attraction had seen Pembrokeshire County Council act to order it closed on safety grounds.

In the 48 hours after the event, five potentially dangerous trees were felled in the enclosure where it happened.

He also highlighted surveys of which MacDougall was aware, and failed to act on, identifying potentially dangerous trees.

Earlier, the court heard that the guilty pleas were accepted on the basis that there was no causal link to the incident.

But the judge questioned why MacDougall failed to act on surveys from an expert who advised action on a number of trees and warned that risk assessments were needed if new areas were opened to the public.

He said he believed MacDougall was "shopping around to try to save money".

"In my view, procrastination and fudge best seem to sum up the views at this stage," he said.

He added: "The defendant, in my view, fell very significantly below the proper standard."

He said that it was "significant" that as soon as expert advice was implemented, all the outstanding problems were quickly resolved.

He said that the only reason not to have acted earlier was "either cost or indifference".

Afterwards, the court agreed to allow the fine, amounting to £74,000, to be paid over five years.

The sentence was welcomed by Pembrokeshire County Council.

"The sentences reflect the fact that Manor House Wildlife Park and Colin MacDougall failed, over a number of years, to manage the risk posed to the paying public and employees at the park," it stated.

Earlier in the hearing, the court was told that Ryder Richardson had sunk more than £1 million of her own cash into the wildlife park.

She and her family largely lived in a wooden cabin within the park's sprawling grounds.

The celebrity interior designer was at Swansea Crown Court for her husband's sentencing.

The day-long hearing offered a rare glimpse into the couple's down to earth lifestyle.

Christian Du Cann, for MacDougall, told the court during mitigation that his client paid himself a "modest £8,000 a year".

He said the wildlife park had annual outgoings of almost £600,000 and last year made a profit of £200,000.

But he emphasised "financial advantage was very much a secondary matter".

Ryder Richardson had ploughed more than £1 million into the park when it was bought in 2008.

The couple also put profits back into the park and were spending £200,000 on a new rhino enclosure.

Bad weather this summer, however, meant profits looked like coming in at closer to £10,000.

And shortcomings to risk management at the park were partly explained by the couple's enthusiasm for the animals, he said.

"These are particularly enthusiastic, engaged people and they are not doing this for the money," Mr Du Cann said.

He added: "In the main, the family have been living in the grounds (of the park) but not within the manor house because that is uninhabitable.

"They have been living, effectively, in a wooden cabin for altruistic reasons."

Simon Morgan, for the council, underlined the fact that the admitted breaches could not be linked to the incident.

The event had sparked a health and safety investigation which went on to find serious problems with the park's risk management regime.

"There is evidence to link breach with the incident," he said.

"The court cannot be satisfied so that it could be sure that a proper regime would have identified the tree as a risk such that it would have resulted in immediate action, and thereby have dealt appropriately with the risk and avoided the accident."

Mr Morgan said: "I am not blaming the company or Mr MacDougall for what happened to the boy and his mother.

"But I can tell the court that the prognosis in relation to both these individuals is uncertain."

Judge Paul Thomas said: "Suffice it to say it was an accident of profound consequences."

During his summing-up of the case today, Mr Morgan outlined a whole series of issues that MacDougall had failed to address.

He said it had transpired that the park had appointed a health and safety specialist only after the accident.

He said after the accident the council had seen no evidence of continuing development or retraining of staff and no evidence that any had the qualifications to make proper assessments of trees.

He said an expert brought in after the accident to asses the park's woodland found a large number of trees needed attention.

He said it was an indication of the health and safety shortcomings that so many trees needing action were found.

Mr Morgan also listed a series of failures which included failure to carry out suitable risk assessment before opening up new areas of the park.

This included the relatively new wallaby enclosure where a tree had fallen down only four months before the one which caused the injuries.

After the sentencing, Pembrokeshire County Council welcomed the outcome and said it vindicated its decision to prosecute.

"The sentences reflect the fact that Manor House Wildlife Park and Colin MacDougall have failed, over a number of years, to manage the risks posed to the paying public and employees at the park," a spokesman said.

"Fundamental health and safety requirements were breached in that there was a failure to assess and actively manage the tree population to ensure the park was safe.

"In turn, these failures created the environment in which a 25-metre beech tree fell, trapping and seriously injuring a young child, Griff, and his mother, Emma Davies-Hughes.

"While the council acknowledges Manor Park's conservation aims and the effort and financial investment made to develop the site as a tourist attraction, this has evidently been at the expense of ensuring public safety.

"The company and Mr MacDougall failed to follow advice contained in a specialist's report on the trees upon which they should have acted.

"Being in that environment was unsafe and the company knew it but carried on entertaining thousands of visitors who were at risk."

He added: "The result was an exceedingly significant and long-standing risk to the public and the park's employees.

"The defendants only dealt with high-risk trees after closure of the park by Pembrokeshire County Council environmental health officers.

"Finally, the county council would like to thank the Davies-Hughes family for their co-operation and patience during a thorough and extensive investigation."

PA

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