Drayton Manor fined £1million over death of schoolgirl, 11, flung from ride

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Drayton Manor has been fined £1million for safety failings that led to the death of a schoolgirl on one of the theme park’s water rides.

But a judge in the case says there was ‘no prospect’ the theme park would pay as the company that owned the park at the time of her death had gone into adminstration.

Evha Jannath, 11, fell from the Splash Canyon river rapids attraction during a school trip and was found floating face-down in the 12ft-deep water.

The Leicester schoolgirl tragically drowned after she was jolted headfirst from the ride into the water at the Staffordshire theme park on May 9, 2017.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) launched a prosecution against the ride operator and said the theme park’s operators oversaw “systemic failures of safety” on the river rapids ride.

Drayton Manor Ltd earlier admitted a health and safety breach in the aftermath of the Jameah Girls Academy schoolgirl’s death.

The ride operator was fined the sum and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £170 at at Stafford Crown Court on Thursday after a two-day hearing in which operators were warned the park could face penalties of up to £2.5m.

Evha suffered a severe chest injury and fell off a travelator into the water as she tried to escape the ride.

She had been playing a game with pals on the ride to see who could get the wettest when she was “propelled” head-first into the water.

An inquest later concluded her death was an accident.

But the HSE prosecuted the park operator, which has admitted breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

In the first day of the hearing this week, the court was told the park had been warned of safety issues in the weeks before Evha’s death.

Prosecutor James Puzey on Wednesday highlighted a series of failures including a lack of signs, poor quality CCTV and no water rescue equipment.

The court heard Evha had been with a group of five girls riding in the raft when she fell into the water towards the end of the ride.

Evha, who could not swim, tried to climb up a conveyor belt at the end of the six-minute ride before plunging into a pit of water and vanishing from view.

Mr Puzey told the first day of the hearing it appeared Evha had been sitting on the step of the boat when it struck a deflector panel, which “propelled” her into the water.

Another guest at the park was watching the ride as she waited her husband and friend to come through the rapids behind the girls’ raft witnessed the incident and ran to find park staff to help.

She was found face down in the water “around six minutes later” by a staff member.

Staff performed CPR but she could not be saved and was later pronounced dead in hospital.

Drayton Manor since been sold to a French firm after falling into administration, but had admitted failure to ensure safety at the park.

This week’s hearing had been told a risk assessment from 2014 was in place but an meeting just three weeks before Evha’s death had raised concerns over public safety.

Mr Puzey told the court that static ride CCTV only covered 50 per cent of the water ride’s course and was “not an effective means of monitoring the boats” or their passengers’ behaviour.

The court heard a technical analysis found that people standing up on the boats was “relatively frequent” and that on “9 per cent to 16 per cent” of journeys, passenger “misbehaviour” was observed.

When they re-watched CCTV of the ride on the day of the accident, experts recorded 70 occasions of people standing up in the ride’s boats.

A report issued just two or three weeks before the incident recommended improving CCTV to better monitor the ride, Mr Puzey said.

The Splash Canyon operator on duty the day of the incident told the prosecutor he had not used the PA system to warn ride-goers as he had not witnessed any misbehaviour.

The court heard the operator accepted the CCTV did not cover the whole ride and he had no training in attempting a rescue or how to use the equipment on the course such as life belts and poles.

People fell in at least once or twice a year, the hearing was told.

The risk on the ride was therefore not “theoretical” and staff had a “critical” role to play in ensuring the safety of members of the public using the theme park’s ride, Mr Puzey said.

Sentencing the company that owned the park at the time of Evha’s death on Thursday, Mr Justice Spencer said: “Evha had a bright future. She was doing well at school and had said she wanted to be a teacher herself. This was an utterly tragic waste of a young life.

“The “thrill level” of the Splash Canyon ride was intended to be relatively “low thrill”, and therefore suitable for children and family groups.

“But as the experts point out, that does not mean that the ride would be inherently safe, nor that the maintenance of safeguards would be any less important than on a “high thrill” ride.

The judge said the company was “highly culpable” after a string of failure to make appropriate changes following prior incidents of passengers falling into the water led to Evha’s death.

He added: “This posed a significant risk of drowning, although fortunately the four previous incidents had not proved as serious as they might have been.”

The breaches had been gone unresolved over a long period of time, and there was a ‘systemic failure’ within the organisation to address the serious risks to health and safety, the judge said.

He added: “The individual members of staff were not to blame; it was the system which was at fault.”

An application for costs of £110,000 to be paid was declined as the judge said the company would be fined £1m.

He added there was “no prospect of the fine being paid” given Drayton Manor Ltd had since gone into administration.

But he added: “In my judgment it would be wholly inappropriate to do other than impose the fine which the offence merited.

“The public and Evha’s family must not be led to think that this serious offence, which resulted in the death of a child, can properly be met by only a nominal (financial) penalty.”

He added: “I bear in mind there are other similar rides in the United Kingdom, I bear in mind that this theme park has been sold to another operator and the staff transferred over.

“It is important that lessons are learned and the seriousness of the defendant company’s failing in this case is marked by an appropriate punishment.”