NEWS

2012-04-25

Castle of Death

One of Britain's most historic tourist attractions has been fined #350,000 following the death of a pensioner who plunged from a castle bridge into a moat.

George Townley was on a day out at Warwick Castle with his partner and her family when he stumbled over a low parapet wall as he was leaving the famous attraction. 

The 72-year-old grandfather dropped 14ft into the dry moat at the castle and died from his injuries in hospital the next day.

A court heard this week how the castle, built by William the Conqueror in 1068 ,did not take 'sufficient measures' to protect visitors crossing the bridge and failed to carry out an appropriate risk assessment.

Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd, who run the castle, was found guilty of two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act in relation to the retired mechanic's death in December 2007. 

At Warwick Crown Court on Tuesday the company were ordered to pay #350,000 in fines by Judge Nigel Godsmark QC.

He said: "This matter arose from the tragic death of George Townley. 

"The death was tragic and unfortunate and he seems to have tripped unluckily.

"On my part I believe the risk of the bridge was not mainly to adult pedestrians but to children.

"Many people have crossed the bridge over the years and some were of the ilk of the health and safety experts from whom most of their evidence has been given in hindsight but Merlin had failed in its duty."

Barry Berlin, prosecuting, said: "It is crystal clear that there was a material risk here and at a result of that people were put at risk.

"On anyone's account the bridge should have been risk assessed because it was a major artery to the castle.

"Warning signs could have been put up and a barrier could have been put up.

"That's not just what we suggest, that is clear from the December 10 risk assessment that was carried out the day after the accident.

"Sadly this was too late."

Keith Morton QC, defending, said Merlin, who took charge of Warwick Castle in 1978, accepted the parapet wall was low but pointed out there had been about 20 million visitors who had crossed the bridge since the company had been involved with the castle.

He said: "There was an insignificant risk of one in four million of any type of accident happening on the bridge and a one in 40 million risk of serious injury or death, you can't get much more insignificant than that other than, I suppose, one in 80 million.

"It's hard to see how there was a significant risk."

Merlin was found guilty of failing to take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent or protect visitors when entering or leaving the castle via the bridge from falling from a considerable height.

It was also found guilty of failing in its duty to provide preventative and protective measures.

As well as a #350,000 fine, the company was also ordered to pay costs of #145,000 to Warwick District Council.

Castle staff put temporary barriers on both sides of the bridge on the day after the accident, which are still in place.

The company intends to put up permanent barriers, subject to planning permission. 

As well as Warwick Castle, Merlin also run famous British tourist attractions like Alton Towers, the London Eye, Madame Tussauds and Thorpe Park.