Dreamscape designer held on suspicion of manslaughter

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The Independent Online

The creator of an inflatable artwork that lifted off its moorings, killing two women, has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.

Maurice Agis, 74, whose commissions over 40 years have included shows at the Barbican and New York's Lincoln Centre, was held for questioning when he attended an appointment yesterday at Charing Cross police station, in London.

His arrest follows the deaths of Elizabeth Collings, 68, and Claire Furmedge, 38, who were killed when his inflatable artwork Dreamscape reared up into the air, on a warm afternoon on 23 July. The women were among dozens of visitors to the colourful walk-in attraction which had been installed at Riverside Park in Chester-le-Street, Co Durham.

Mrs Furmedge, a radiographer, was visiting the park with her children Jessica, eight, and Emily, six, when the tragedy occurred. Rosie Wright, aged three, was also badly hurt. Her life was saved by an off-duty anaesthetist who stabilised her before she was taken by helicopter to hospital.

Dreamscape - a labyrinth of coloured pods and tunnels described by the artist as "surreal, magic, like swimming in a sea of changing colours" - was first shown in Copenhagen in 1996 and had been enjoyed by 250,000 visitors across Europe before the tragedy occurred.

Celebrated as an accessible piece of art, hundreds of people at a time were able to enter the maze-like structure. After removing their shoes, they donned capes and wandered around inflated walkways to specially composed music and sounds.

Police are investigating whether hot weather on the day of the disaster may have warmed the air inside and, despite the attachment of extra ropes because of the heat, caused it to rear 150ft into air. One woman fell 30ft on to a concrete path as the creation was swept across the park. After the tragedy, Mr Agis said he would never again make anything like the vast, walk-in structure.

His partner, Paloma Brotons, said sculptor was heartbroken. "There was a team of us that helped to tie the structure to the ground; we even used more ropes because it was hot," she said. "We can't understand what's happened. Maurice is in mourning. He is in a terrible way. I doubt he will be able to talk about this for a very long time."

Detective Superintendent Neil Milkin, of Durham Police, said yesterday: "Inquiries are continuing in this wide-ranging investigation.We are awaiting reports from the Health and Safety Executive's laboratory and it is likely to be summer next year before we are in a position to put a file before the Crown Prosecution Service."

Mr Agis, 74, was given police bail pending further inquiries.