Tyne & Wear

Dreamspace artwork deaths: Council and charity blamed

A High Court judge has blamed an event organiser and council after two women died when an inflatable artwork blew off the ground in County Durham.

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

Mr Justice Foskett said Liverpool-based event organiser Brouhaha and Chester-le-Street Council were each to blame.

He ruled Brouhaha must pay 55% and the council 45% of compensation due.

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

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

A spokesman for Brouhaha said it was disappointed by the decision, but said the charity offered its "sincere condolences" to the families.

Since the fatal incident, Chester-le-Street District Council has shut and become part of Durham County Council.

The county council said it welcomed the fact that Brouhaha would pay the "majority share" of the compensation and that it had been a "painful chapter" for those involved.

Adequately anchored

Details of compensation have not been released, but it is believed to amount to millions of pounds.

The judge said both the council and Brouhaha International Limited (BIL) were at "serious fault" in failing to recognise the risk after an assessment was carried out by the creator of the structure Maurice Agis, an artist who died in 2009.

He said they had both failed to ensure that the installation was adequately anchored to the ground.

The judge said that although BIL was a small non-profit making charity, it had had a duty to make sure that members of the public invited into Dreamspace were kept safe.

Image caption Elizabeth Collings and Claire Furmedge fell from the structure

Mr Justice Foskett said there was "nothing to choose" between the council and charity in terms of blame.

However, he did say that Brouhaha had known the structure was "susceptible to instability when conditions were windy".

He said the council would have realised the risk if it had looked into Mr Agis's risk assessment more carefully, and Brouhaha had done nothing to alert the council.

Mr Justice Foskett said: "It is, of course, the case that had Maurice Agis been an effective party to the present proceedings, he would almost certainly have been found responsible to the largest extent of any of the three parties responsible for what happened."

The structure failed because it had inadequate anchorage, which meant a "fairly unexceptional" breeze was enough to lift it from the ground, the court heard.

Those claiming compensation include the husbands of the women who died - Gary Furmedge, of Chester-le-Street, and William Collings, of Dalton-le-Dale.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites