Down's girl killed in fall from big wheel 'was told to sit alone'

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A teenager with Down's syndrome who fell to her death from the top of a Ferris wheel was forced to sit on her own during the ride, despite pleas from her mother, an inquest was told yesterday.

A teenager with Down's syndrome who fell to her death from the top of a Ferris wheel was forced to sit on her own during the ride, despite pleas from her mother, an inquest was told yesterday.

Salma Saleem, 15, fell from the top of the wheel at Gulliver's World in Warrington, Cheshire, shortly after an attendant had refused to allow her mother to sit with her.

Instead, Salma travelled on her own and her mother was left to follow in the gondola behind, from where she witnessed the fatal accident.

It also emerged that several previous passengers had experienced difficulties with locks on the gondolas before the accident took place in July 2002.

Cheshire coroner's court heard that Salma, who weighed more than 12 stone, had initially been uncomfortable at the prospect of being separated from her mother during the ride. Her sister Rabia, from Nelson, Lancashire, who rode on the wheel a few minutes earlier, told the hearing she had appeared anxious at the start of the ride.

"When Salma was going to get on, my mum was going to sit with her. The attendant said, 'No, she has to sit on her own'," she said. "My mum doesn't know much English so she said 'Salma handicap' but they ignored her. Salma sat in the gondola and they put my mum in the next one."

While it was not clear how she fell, one witness, Stephen Cox, described seeing her in a "semi-standing" position seconds before her death.

Concerns about safety standards at the ride were also raised when a woman who went on the ride eight months before Salma's death told the inquiry of problems with the locking device.

Lorraine Robinson described how she was sitting with her five-year-old daughter when the bar unlocked and went into the upright position during the ride.

"The gondola was swaying backwards and forwards and I put my left arm across my daughter's chest to hold her in," said Mrs Robinson, from Chorley, Lancashire.

"I don't have learning difficulties, like the young lady we are talking about today, but I can honestly say it was the most frightening situation I have ever found myself in." Mrs Robinson told the hearing that on reporting the fault to the ride attendant, he informed her: "That's always happening."

Peter Shepherd, another passenger, told the hearing how the attendant had used a screwdriver and hammer to force open the lock of the safety bar when it became jammed.

Similar problems were experienced by a third witness. As the attendant struggled to release her, he reportedly told her: "The lock's buggered."

The inquest continues.