Inflatable artwork creator denies manslaughter charges

Two women died because the Dreamspace Artwork installation in Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham in the UK was not properly tethered, a court was told.

Two people died when a walk-through inflatable artwork broke free from its moorings because of the creator’s gross negligence, a court heard today. Maurice Agis, 77, designed the multi-coloured Dreamspace structure and was taking it on a UK tour when disaster struck in July 2006 in Chester-le-Street, County Durham. The artwork, with a number of people inside, broke free from its rope moorings, floated into the air, flipped over and crashed to the ground in Riverside Park, Newcastle crown court heard. Claire Furmedge, 38, and Elizabeth Collings, 68, died in the incident.
Agis, from Bethnal Green, east London, denies two charges of manslaughter and a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act by failing to ensure the safety of employees.

The court heard that Agis was warned by an employee of Brouhaha International, the event organisers, that the structure was rising into the air. “Maurice Agis, having taken a look, said that it was okay for members of the public to re-enter,” Sloan said. Agis told Brouhaha workers to attach more ropes to ground pegs around the structure to secure it but told them to stop later so that he and his partner could enjoy a refreshment break, the court heard. “As a result, no additional ropes and pegs were attached to the rear of the structure,” Sloan said. He told the jury that Agis was “well aware” of the dangers that strong gusts of wind posed to Dreamspace. In July 1986, another one of the defendant’s creations, Colourspace, broke free from its moorings and took off during strong winds at a display in Germany, the court was told.

Sloan said: “Investigations and expert analysis has revealed that the anchorage system employed by this defendant was inadequate in many respects.” Agis’s own risk assessment identified the need for Dreamspace to be anchored by 40 stakes, but investigations revealed that far fewer were used on the day of the accident. “While the defendant specified the use of 40 stakes, he has never suggested that the figure was arrived at following design calculations and/or tests by a suitably qualified and experienced engineer,” the prosecutor told the jury.

“If proper calculations and tests had been undertaken in advance by a suitably qualified and experienced engineer, a safe design and anchorage system could have been identified. As is clear from the defendant’s own documentation, there was not even a calculation of the maximum safe permitted in-service wind speed.”

The trial continues and is expected to last 4 weeks.


Articles published: 28.01.09

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