Theme park fined £250,000 over ride death

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The Independent Online

The distraught family of the teenager who fell to her death from a white-knuckle ride condemned a £250,000 fine for the company running the theme park today as "far too little".

Sunday school teacher Hayley Williams, 16, of Pontypool, South Wales, plunged 100ft to her death on the Hydro ride during a family outing.

The tragedy happened in April 2004 at the Oakwood Theme Park near Narberth, West Wales, as horrified guests looked on.

High Court Judge Justice Lloyd-Jones fined Oakwood Leisure Ltd £250,000 and ordered it to pay £80,000 costs today at the climax of a day-long sentencing hearing at Swansea Crown Court.

Earlier he had said that safety breaches at the theme park had created "the potential for really serious injury to very large numbers of people".

But Beverley Williams, the teenager's mother, stormed out of court in disgust as the judge concluded at what she regarded as "too lenient" an amount.

Hilary Williams, the teenager's aunt, broke down in tears and shouted: "I hope they will rot in hell for what they have done to my family. They should go to prison."

Her comments came at the end of an emotionally charged day in which it was revealed that hundreds of passengers using the ride were put at risk in the week before the tragedy.

Mother Beverley Williams repeatedly shook her head, apparently in disbelief, during proceedings as she clutched a picture of her daughter and held hands with her husband Alan.

Mark Harris, prosecuting for the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), told the court today the HSE had analysed CCTV footage of the ride recorded in the seven days running up to the tragedy.

It revealed basic safety procedure was widely ignored by staff overseeing the ride.

Vital checks to a T-bar which sits on a rider's legs and a secondary airline-style seatbelt were not habitually made.

On the day Hayley rode the ride, no attempt was made to check she had properly put in place either safety restraint.

The court heard that the Swiss company which manufactured the ride had expressly drawn attention to the importance of staff making the basic checks to guarantee safety.

But Mr Harris said the CCTV footage revealed an average of 29.2 per cent of more than 4,000 people who used the ride over the period were not safety checked.

On the day Hayley died 87.7 per cent of all passengers were not checked to see that the T-bar was in place and the seatbelt properly fastened.

The firm had been charged by the HSE in February with a single offence of failing to ensure persons not in its employ were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.

The charge also specifically named Swansea schoolboy, Martin Rothwell, who was on the same ride and received minor injuries after being hit by Hayley as she fell.

The family-run company, headed by Patrick McNamara, later admitted the single charge at a hearing in July.

The prosecution today acknowledged that Oakwood Leisure Ltd did have a proper training scheme in place for its staff overseeing rides at the theme park.

Staff were instructed to push down on the ride's T-bar restraint and pull up on the seatbelt to make sure both were properly fastened.

What the company did not have was a way of checking that staff properly carried out their instructions.

This meant that management had no way of knowing that there was a potentially fatal problem.

This only became apparent to them when the CCTV ride footage was analysed by the HSE.

Proshant Popat, for the defence, told the court: "It came as a considerable shock to those in positions of management in the company to see what they saw on the footage.

"It is that which led to the plea being entered."