Alton Towers engineer ‘felt pressure’ to give ride the all clear

The Smiler at Alton Towers. Picture; West Midlands Ambulance Service
The Smiler at Alton Towers. Picture; West Midlands Ambulance Service
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An engineer “felt pressure” to get the Smiler ride back into service after it developed a fault - shortly before the devastating crash last June in which five people were seriously injured, a report has said.

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The expert witness report, compiled by consultant Stephen Flanagan, also said Alton Towers management linked bonuses to “acceptably low levels of downtime” on their rollercoasters.

It was submitted to Stafford Crown Court as the theme park’s owners Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd face a multimillion-pound fine over the collision between two carriages which left the five injured in June 2015.

Two teenage girls - Vicky Balch and Leah Washington - both lost a leg in the crash and were in court as the sentencing hearing started on Monday.

Prosecutor Bernard Thorogood made repeated reference to a report compiled by Mr Flanagan, who inspected fairground rides and amusement parks for the Health and Safety Executive.

In the document, Mr Flanagan said: “It is clear that his (one of the engineer’s) priority had become getting the ride quickly back into service, and he felt pressure to that effect.”

Neither this claim nor any references to the bonuses was made during the hearing in front of judge Michael Chambers QC.

The report continued: “The evidence provided to me also indicates that management had set targets for downtime on rides, with bonuses linked to achieving acceptably low levels. There were also clocks in the ride control cabins showing the current performance on downtime.

“The operation of fairground rides is generally considered to be a high hazard activity. That is to say that an untoward event such as the one occurring on the Smiler ride would potentially have serious consequences, involving serious multiple injuries or fatalities.

“Whereas the public perception of the hazards associated with rollercoasters may be focused on the danger of a train parting company with the track, in reality the bigger, and more difficult to resolve issue has always been the hazard of trains colliding on the track.”