Inflatable artwork tragedy inquest opens

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The Independent Online

The families of two women killed when an inflatable artwork was lifted into the air by a gust of wind before crashing to the ground were today hoping that almost four years of questions will soon be answered.

Mother-of-two Claire Furmedge, 38, and 69-year-old Elizabeth Collings, known as Anne, died in the Dreamspace tragedy.

County Durham Coroner Andrew Tweddle will begin an inquest today at Chester-le-Street Magistrates' Court.

In a statement released through their lawyers, the victims' families spoke of their hopes for the four-week hearing.

They said: "The families of Anne Collings and Claire Furmedge sincere hope is that the inquest will establish how the council and its Safety Advisory Group managed to approve the structure without even the most basic health and safety inquiry being made and what other councils should do in future to avoid a repeat of such a catastrophic failure of the safety net which local authorities should provide."

Dreamspace V, a walk-in structure half the size of a football pitch, took off in a gust of wind with up to 20 visitors inside in July 2006.

Several people were injured, some badly, including three-year-old Rosie Wright of Langley Park, near Durham.

Maurice Agis, 77, of Bethnal Green, east London, who was the artist behind Dreamspace, originally faced two counts of manslaughter.

But following a month-long trial, a jury failed to reach a verdict on the charges.

He admitted failing to ensure the safety of the public - an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act - and was fined £10,000. He died in hospital last October.

Chester-le-Street District Council, which staged the exhibition and has since been replaced by Durham County Council, was fined £20,000 after admitting health and safety offences.