Alton Towers owner fined over rollercoaster crash with impact 'like 90mph car crash'

Operator ordered to pay £5m after collision leaves two teenagers needing leg amputations

alton towers

Alton Tower accident victims Leah Washington and Joe Pugh outside Stafford Crown Court | Photo: PA Images

The operator of Alton Towers has been fined £5m (€5.8m) over health and safety breaches following a crash on The Smiler ride last year.

Merlin Attractions, which operates the Staffordshire theme park and a number of others, admitted the offences at Stafford Crown Court.

Two teenagers - Vicky Balch, then 19, and Leah Washington, then 17 - each lost a leg in the collision in June 2015.

The court had earlier heard that an engineer "felt pressure" to return the ride to service after it developed a fault, shortly before the crash.

A report compiled by a group of consultants said that the park's management linked the payment of bonuses to "acceptably low levels of downtime" for rollercoasters.

Victims had watched with "disbelief and horror" as the carriages they were riding in ploughed into empty carriage on the track in front.

The prosecution said the impact was equivalent to a 90mph car crash.

Paul Paxton, a lawyer for eight of the victims, said on the steps outside the court: "The court have imposed what we believe is a record fine for the industry but, of course, money alone will never replace limbs or heal the psychological scars.

"It's worth remembering that this hearing is the first time many of my clients have heard the full extent of the criticism against Merlin.

"They have been shocked and disappointed by the catalogue of errors - a catastrophic failure to assess risk, inadequate training, inadequate management, failures to communicate, failure to put into place safety systems at work.

"This is about making sure that lessons have been learned, not just by Merlin but by others throughout the industry."

Vctim Vicky Balch (right) and her mother Karen arrive in court earlier today | Photo: PA Images

Judge Michael Chambers QC said the accident was not human error, as the firm had claimed, but was a "catastrophic failure" by Merlin involving basic health and safety measures.

He said the "obvious shambles of what occurred" could have been "easily avoided" by an appropriate written system to deal with ride faults and a suitable risk assessment.

Judge Chambers said: "This was a needless and avoidable accident in which those injured were fortunate not to have been killed or bled to death.

"Those in the front row bore the brunt of the collision and had their legs crushed in the tangled steel."

He added that the relatives and the injured had shown "great courage and fortitude" in the aftermath.

Lawyers for Merlin said the company's revenues dropped by £14m (€16m) following the crash, and as a result it had "got the message".

It had since made 30 changes to safety measures, equipment, and training.