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Leisure firms fined £63,000 over high ropes fall

A not-for-profit leisure operator and a consultancy that advised it must pay a total of £168,000 after a visitor fell around 9 metres from a high ropes course at a country park near Welwyn Garden City.

Welwyn Hatfield Leisure Ltd, trading as Finesse Leisure, and Closer To The Edge (CTTE) both pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety regulations.

St Albans Crown Court heard how in June 2013, Caroline Mayger was navigating the Stanborough Park course, and as she was about to tackle the zip line, she “felt something above her give way”, before “plummeting to rocks” below.

Prosecutor Andrew Marshall said: “She left the tower believing she was attached, she fell down and hit the stones that were beneath the tower.

“People heard a thudding sound; they heard the gravel splashed away. She lay motionless on the ground.”

The 55-year-old was airlifted to hospital, and suffered fractures to her pelvis, arm and shoulder blade, as well as severe nerve/soft tissue damage. She had two major operations, had plates and screws put in her arm, and was hospitalised for six weeks.

Finesse was running the course on behalf of the council, but because neither were experienced in managing high ropes, CTTE was sought to provide its expertise and operational support.

Judge John Plumstead claimed the accident happened because the instructor “made a mistake that he should not have been able to make”, which centred on the use of a 3mm-thick Paracord “that was never intended for anything other than relatively light duties”.

Mr Balysz, defending Finesse, said the course was “fit for purpose”, and if the cord was the reason for the accident, Finesse could not be held responsible for its presence.

Defending CTTE, Mr Kay accepted the operations manual it provided was “not clear enough”, and “the Paracord should not have been there”, but highlighted CTTE was not running the course – just providing operational support.

Both firms expressed their “sincere regret” and “remorse” to the victim.

Mr Plumstead acknowledged both companies’ clean histories, and accepted any fine issued to not-for-profit firm Finesse would impact local residents.

He also appreciated CTTE had now gone into liquidation, but refused to hand it a “nominal” fee, adding it had “made a mistake in good faith, but it was a mistake”.

Finesse was fined £33,000 and CTTE £30,000, and each also had to pay £52,503 legal costs.

Welwyn Hatfield Times
November 2016