Stoke & Staffordshire

Alton Towers admits Smiler ride safety breaches

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Media captionChanda Chauhan and Vanisha Singh said the images of the crash still lived with them

The owner of Alton Towers has been told it faces a large fine after admitting responsibility for the Smiler rollercoaster crash.

Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd admitted charges of breaching the Health and Safety Act.

Victims of the crash, including one woman who likened the aftermath to a "horror movie", were in court.

The firm's counsel, Simon Antrobus, said it accepted it could have taken additional safety measures on the day.

Two women had leg amputations after last June's crash.

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Image caption (l-r) Daniel Thorpe, Vicky Balch, Joe Pugh and Leah Washington were among those seriously injured

In total, 16 people were hurt when a carriage on the ride crashed into another static car on the track.

District Judge John McGarva, sitting at North Staffordshire Justice Centre, said the incident was a very serious case which led to life-changing injuries.

Mr McGarva warned the firm it "may be ordered to pay a very large fine" when it is sentenced at Stafford Crown Court.

'Lifelong recovery'

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told the court that while the ride was mechanically safe, there were not systems in place to tell staff when a static ride was on the tracks.

A static train was shown on the computer, the court heard, but a member of staff did not see it and overrode the computer.

Merlin had previously admitted responsibility for the crash after carrying out an internal investigation into the incident.

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Image caption Leah Washington and Joe Pugh (pictured left) and Vicky Balch (right) who were among the most seriously injured in the crash, attended the court hearing

The five most seriously injured victims - Vicky Balch, Chanda Chauhan, Joe Pugh, Daniel Thorpe and Leah Washington - were all present in court with their families.

Paul Paxton, head of personal injury at Stewarts Law, which represents eight victims, said the guilty plea was "a milestone" for its clients, adding they were "not motivated by retribution".

"It is comforting for the families that a plea of guilty has been entered rather than the victims having to endure a drawn out trial," they said.

"Regrettably, the physical recovery will be a lifelong process."

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Image caption The crash on the Smiler left five people seriously injured

Neil Craig, HSE head of operations in the Midlands, also welcomed the guilty plea.

"The incident was profoundly distressing for everyone involved, both physically and mentally," he said.

A spokesman for Merlin said the company took "responsibility" for the crash and "co-operated fully" with the HSE from the beginning of the investigation.

They added: "We have sought to provide help and support to all those injured in the accident and will continue to do so."

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