After a lengthy legal battle, an entertainments operator, who supports and operates well known attractions such as Madame Tussauds, Legoland, Alton Towers and the London Eye, has received a £495,000 penalty following the 2007 fatal fall of George Townley at Warwick Castle. This figure represents £145,000 in costs and a fine of £350,000 which accounted for 11.5% of the operator's most recent pre-tax profits.

Mr Townley had been crossing a dry moat into the 900-year-old castle when he tripped over a 39cm high parapet wall and fell 4.3 metres into the moat below. He died later in hospital due to head injuries. The risk of such a fall was flagged to the operator in 1995 as part of a Public Entertainment Licence condition, and then again in 2003 in a general risk assessment.  Warwick District Council argued that not only had there been a failure to pass this information on to managers (including the health and safety manager), but there had also been a failure to carry out an appropriate site-specific risk assessment prior to the incident. Rob Chapelo, divisional environmental health officer at the Council, highlighted that the operator had previously erected temporary barriers during events at the castle in order to protect the public from such a fall but had failed to put anything in place to cover usage on a day to day basis. Chapelo further added that this fatal accident was foreseeable and would not have occurred if a "suitable and sufficient" risk assessment had been undertaken which, in the Council's view, would have identified the need to provide barriers to the sides of the bridge. Since the incident a scaffolding barrier has been implemented.

The operator was charged with breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (duty to conduct undertakings in a manner which does not expose visitors to risks to their health and safety) and Regulation 5(2) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (failing to make adequate arrangements for the effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of any necessary preventative measures). The operator was unanimously found guilty of both offences. Prosecutor Barry Berlin provided that "we do not have to prove the failures led to or caused the accident, only that there was a failure to protect the safety of people going to and from the castle". Chapelo further added "I hope that this successful prosecution will draw attention the need to undertake proper risk assessments and implement the measures necessary to protect visitor safety."  A spokesman for Warwick Castle said they were "very disappointed" at the verdict and will review the situation to decide on any further appropriate actions. They also added that since 1978 more than 20 million people have visited the castle without incident on the bridge. This case helps highlights the difficult balancing act commonly faced when implementing health and safety legislation. On the one hand there is the need for stringent compliance and appropriate risk assessments, but on the other there may be a perception by entities that the risk is low to nil as a result of a historically clean record.

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The original publication date for this article was 22/06/2012.