Every one responsible for public realm should be concerned about Warwick Castle Health and safety conviction and fine of £350,000

24 May

Every officer responsible for public activities and events must have felt a shiver down the spine when they heard of the criminal conviction of the Warwick Castle Operators, Merlin Attractions and the fine of £350,000, particularly those responsible for parks and places where children play. I believe it is precisely the message that the past and present Governments, the Health and Safety Executive and the Play Safety Forum have been trying to reverse over the past 10 years and I sincerely hope that Merlin Attractions will appeal the decision.

I write in a personal capacity, but I am currently the Chair of the UK Play Safety Forum, Vice Chair of Play England and Chair of Sutcliffe Play, having spent the last twenty years working in the field of standardisation and risk management. I am not going to try and summarise the case but give the link below to the article that forms the basis of this response:

 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2135064/Warwick-Castle-fined-350-000-pensioner-plunged-15ft-death-parapet-dry-moat.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

Let me start by saying that there can be no question about the tragic nature of the accident and the resulting death, which will cause much grief to his family and friends, with whom we will all want to share our sympathy, but, despite this, the question must arise about the extent that such a tragedy can inhibit and reduce the activities of society as a whole.

As stated above, perhaps the most important reason for concern is that this verdict seems to fly in the face of all that the H&SE and the Government are saying about common sense, myth busting and proportionality and particularly the spirit of the Lord Young report. To us in play this is very important as it undermines our commitment to encouraging practitioners to be braver in what they offer children particularly as the Judge said that it was not so much adults, but children for whom he was concerned.

Since Merlin took over responsibility for the Castle in 1978 more than 20 million people had passed over this bridge. Prior to that the bridge had been used for hundreds of years without incident, if this activity has to be risk assessed, where does that process end?

A particular point of interest in this case is that it was not Officers of the HSE but the H&SE officers of the relevant local authority that brought this action, confirming perhaps the wisdom of returning responsibility for prosecution back to the HSE itself. 

But it is not the damage done in this specific case to the assessing of parapet walls we are to be concerned about, it is every decision affecting the public, both adult and children in any form of recreation where an authority could be held responsible for their safety. It will encourage and spread the sort of caution that has inhibited Local Authority Officers and other organisations like the National Trust and English Heritage from giving us unfettered freedom to walk, climb, play and explore or to be responsible for ourselves and our own safety.

It is for this reason that I think it is very important for all of us that Merlin appeal this decision and I hope that all those in a position of influence will encourage them.

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One Response to “Every one responsible for public realm should be concerned about Warwick Castle Health and safety conviction and fine of £350,000”

  1. Tim Gill May 26, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    Hi Robin – great to see you enter the online fray, and I agree that the Warwick case raises some important questions about the duty of care on landowners and managers that need to be tested in an appeal. As you imply, these cases are highly emotive, and lower court decisions like this can be influenced by emotional factors. Let’s hope this happens – in cases like Congleton v Tomlinson, the legal position was arguably only clarified once the full legal process was completed.

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