Tyne & Wear

Judge to decide Dreamspace art deaths blame

A High Court judge is to decide who should be blamed for a tragedy in which an inflatable artwork blew away, killing two County Durham women.

Elizabeth Anne Collings, 68, and Claire Furmedge, 38, died when the Dreamspace artwork blew free in Chester-le-Street in July 2006.

Sitting in London, Mr Justice Foskett heard that the compensation claims of the families had been settled.

The only issue outstanding was the apportionment of liability.

The court heard this stood between the insurers of Chester-le-Street District Council and arts organisation Brouhaha International Limited (BIL).

The huge walk-in structure - half the size of a football pitch - took off in a gust of wind with 20 visitors inside.

Ms Furmedge, from Chester-le-Street, and Ms Collings, from Seaham, died from injuries suffered when they fell from the artwork. Several others were badly hurt.

Image caption Maurice Agis was fined for failing to ensure the safety of the public

Mr Justice Foskett heard the creator of Dreamspace, artist Maurice Agis, would play no part in the litigation as he died in 2009 and left no assets.

The council's QC, Lord Faulks, told the court on Tuesday that it was not disputed that the giant structure broke free from its anchorage and rose at least 30ft before snagging on a CCTV post and falling to the ground.

"This was of course a great tragedy, primarily for the families of Mrs Furmedge and Mrs Collings and others who were injured, some seriously, and some who suffered psychiatric effects.

"It was also a tragedy for Maurice Agis who had a distinguished career in his idiosyncratic way before his death."

Counsel said that the court had to decide whether BIL owed a duty of care to visitors to the attraction, which BIL denied, and, if it did, what was the appropriate division of responsibility between the parties.

'67% liability'

He argued that BIL must carry no less than 67% liability because its involvement and blameworthiness was much greater.

He said that in particular, BIL had constructed Dreamspace 5 for the artist in the first place, knowing it was intended for use by the public, without investigating whether or not it was safe.

He added that BIL did not share information with the council relating to at least one earlier incident, in Liverpool, where the artwork had previously lifted off the ground, necessitating its evacuation.

The QC added that BIL had also promoted the event, controlled the budget, erected the structure, provided the staff operating it and failed to evacuate on the day of the incident, despite the fact it had been lifting up.

He rejected BIL's claim that it was not liable because it relied on the artist in health and safety matters, and it was he who gave instructions on how Dreamscape should be erected and operated.

The hearing continues.

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