In our last bulletin we reported the HSE’s decision to prosecute Merlin following the highly- publicised incident at Alton Towers theme park on 2 June 2015 in which five people were seriously injured on a rollercoaster, when their carriage collided with an empty stationary carriage on the same track.
Merlin pleaded guilty to a breach of section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 at a hearing on 22 April 2016 at North Staffordshire Justice Centre. Merlin issued the following statement:
“Merlin Attractions Operations Limited today pleaded guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act. From the outset, the company has accepted responsibility for what happened in June last year and it has co-operated fully with the Health & Safety Executive in its investigation. We have sought to provide help and support to all those injured in the accident and will continue to do so.”
With an annual turnover of £250m Merlin will fall within the category of a large organisation (turnover £50m+) for the purposes of sentencing, with the suggested range of fine being £2.6m to £10m. However, the sentencing guidelines state that where turnover “very greatly exceeds the threshold for large organisations, it may be necessary to move outside the suggested range to achieve a proportionate sentence”.
District Judge John McGarva said the company faced “very high culpability” over the incident and “may be ordered to pay a very large fine”.
No comment was made as to whether the company’s turnover “very greatly exceeds” the threshold for large organisations. That is likely to be a point argued at the sentencing hearing in due course.