Skegness fairground operator fined for safety failings which left 22 thrill-seekers hanging in mid air

The Surf Rider ride at Botton's Pleasure Beach, Skegness.
The Surf Rider ride at Botton's Pleasure Beach, Skegness.

A fairground operator has today been made to pay more than £16,000 for safety failings which left 22 thrill-seekers dangling in mid air after the ride they were on broke down.

Pleasure Beach Amusements Skegness Limited pleaded guilty to health and safety offences which caused its Surf Rider attraction to suffer mechanical failure on August 30, 2011.

The Health and Safety Executive’s investigation into the accident, in which seven people were treated in hospital, with three remaining over night, determined that a gearbox had failed due to a lack of oil, causing the car to rotate on its axis and collide with the platform.

Speaking after today’s hearing at Skegness Magistrates, inspector David Kivlin said: “This was a frightening incident for many people that day and it could have been easily prevented.

“There was just not enough oil in the gearboxes.

“The injuries suffered by those on the ride that day could have been much worse.

“It was a traumatic experience for everyone on board and some are now unwilling to go on fair rides or in lifts.

“As the ride’s owner and operator, Pleasure Beach Amusements (Skegness) Ltd had a duty to ensure the ride was maintained in good working order. The company significantly failed in that duty.”

Mr Kivlin told the magistrates how a ‘large bang and grinding noise’ had been heard several days before the accident, leading to the ride’s closure.

Maintenance teams attempted to identify the problem and eventually dismantled the ride, replacing it with the faulty gearbox.

Mitigating for the defence, Mr Cameron explained that the replacement gearbox had been put in storage, along with two others, following the ride’s refurbishment in 2009.

While one of the gearboxes was marked with a tag explaining it had no oil in, the others had no warning attached, leading the maintenance teams to assume they had been filled.

“They made an incorrect assumption - it’s no excuse but it’s not the case whereby the company simply did not give any thought at all,” said Mr Cameron.

The defence also highlighted the company’s unblemished safety record over its 45 year history, its early guilty plea and the absence of any financial motivation behind the negligence.

Mr Kivlin also accepted these factors in his presentation to the magistrates.

“The defendant has been most cooperative during the investigation and has given a prompt guilty plea, we are not aware of any previous accidents at the business and we do not believe the defendant deliberately neglected their duty for financial gain,” he said.

Mr Kivlin informed magistrates that the maximum fine they could impose without referring the case to Crown Court was £20,000, alongside contributions to the investigation’s costs, which totalled nearly £66,000.

Mr Cameron called on magistrates to be lenient with the fine imposed, drawing their attention to the company’s ‘limited means’.

Having made substantial losses in 2012, while anticipating a further loss of £90,000 in 2013, Mr Cameron said £66,000 was an ‘enormous sum of money’ that was ‘well beyond the company’s limited means’ and called for no more than £7,500 to be imposed.

The chairman of the magistrates, in presenting the fine, said: “We’ve looked very carefully at all that has been sad and we’ve taken into account your early guilty plea along with your safety record and we therefore fine you a total of £8,000.

“With regard to the cost of the case brought by the HSE we set a limit at £8,000 and impose a victim surcharge of £15.”

In a statement after the hearing the company said it ‘deeply regretted’ the incident.

“Botton’s is a local family-run business and has always been committed to ensuring that customers attending our funfair in Skegness are able to enjoy themselves without risk of harm,” they said.

The company pointed out its impeccable safety record and explained that further steps had been taken to improve its maintenance regime.

“We would like to take this opportunity to apologise to those of our customers who were on the ride at the time of the incident and their families for what must have been a very frightening incident,” they added

“We hope that they can now, however, put the incident behind them and continue to enjoy all of the facilities which our fairground has to offer.”

The relative of a 10-year-old girl who had been kept in hospital overnight after the accident has dismissed the fine as ‘peanuts’.

Peter Wilson, who travelled from Nottingham to hear the case, said his niece’s daughter had been traumatised by the accident and felt a heavier fine was needed.

“She has been nervous in a lot of respects, especially when she goes to fair grounds,” he said

“The fine is peanuts.”

Another young victim of the accident has also told of her traumatic experience.

Student Alice Thorne, 16, of Hinckley, Leicestershire, was trapped on the Surf Rider for more than an hour when it collapsed. She suffered neck, chest and leg injuries and has been affected psychologically by the incident which has left her with a fear of heights and fairground rides.

She said: “When we got on the ride it was going around normally, and then it jolted down. I said: “Is it going to snap?” It then started to tip and fell to the ground.

“People came rushing over. I was at the top of the ride so I had to wait for about an hour for the fire officer to release me.

“I was really shook up and was put in the ambulance and had an ECG, but we decided I didn’t need to go to hospital.

“The next day I woke up in agony and could not move my shoulder and neck. My neck pain lasted a couple of months, and affected my dancing. I’ve also been having nightmares about the incident.

“I no longer go on fairground rides and when it comes to lifts and elevators, I get scared they might drop. I get very anxious in multi-storey car parks, and I’m now very paranoid about anything to do with heights.”