A Staffordshire theme park is facing a fine of up to £2.5 million after an 11-year-old girl fell and drowned from their river rapids ride.
Evha Jannath was ‘propelled’ from a six-seater vessel on Splash Canyon at Drayton Manor on May 9 2017, while on an end-of-year school trip with staff and friends from Jameah Girls Academy in Leicester.
A coroner hearing an inquest into the death last summer, raised six ‘matters of concern’ relating to health and safety procedures before publishing a report to other theme park operators highlighting the issues in December 2019.
Following the incident, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said Drayton Manor Park Ltd would be prosecuted for a breach of health and safety law.
During a hearing at Cannock Magistrates’ Court today, barristers for the theme park – which is now in administration – indicated they would enter a guilty plea to the single charge they face, under Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act.
The charge relates to a failure to ensure the safety of park guests.
Giving an outline of the case against Drayton Manor, HSE barrister Ben Mills said: “The prosecution arises from an investigation into the death of an 11-year-old girl called Evha Jannath.”
He added that she was ‘jolted’ into the water, before falling while trying to climb a ‘conveyor belt’ which took boats to the exit.
He said: “It appears she fell from the structure, at some point.
“She sustained a significant chest injury.
“The depth of the water there was beyond her head height and she tragically drowned.”
“The accident was caused by a constellation of different failures, relating to the safety of the public on the ride.”
Mr Mills said it was the HSE’s case that failings included ‘inadequate’ signage for those on the ride, ‘inadequate training’ for staff, ‘an element of under-staffing’ and ‘a lack of emergency planning’, while static CCTV ‘only covered 50% of the course’.
He said: “The failures were at an organisational level and not levelled at the individuals seeking on the day, no doubt, to do their very best.”
He added that Drayton Manor’s latest accounts showed it turned over about £24 million in 2019, providing a possible starting point for any fine under the health and safety breach of £950,000, ‘with a range of £600,000 to £2.5 million’.
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But the HSE’s barrister added it would be for the court ‘to consider whether that should increase substantially to reflect the fact that it was the cause of a death’.
Richard Matthews QC, representing Drayton Manor, said: “The prosecution’s allegations of the extent of the failures and nature of them are something that isn’t necessarily all agreed.”
He added the allegations would be subject to a more detailed basis of plea, to be submitted to the courts before any sentencing.
He said: “It is likely that any sentencing court will have to grapple, in the usual way, with those issues.”
Mr Mills also told the court that Drayton Manor Park Ltd ‘has gone into administration’ since Evha’s death, and that it was ‘imperative’ any sentencing happened before the company was ‘formally dissolved’.
He added Drayton Manor’s lawyers had agreed to tell prosecutors about any key future developments on the firm’s administration process.
Mr Matthews said the company had given that ‘assurance’.
He said: “For our part, for a great variety of reasons – not least those you’ve already identified concerning public interest – we will do our utmost to ensure the matter is heard before March 4, next year (and) finally determined.”
Both the prosecution and defence also asked for the case to be adjourned to a higher court to ‘reflect the public interest and seriousness of this matter’.
Agreeing with the application, District Judge Gregor committed the case for sentencing to be heard some time in the new year at Stafford Crown Court.