With the travelling funfair season in full swing and the conclusion of the trial of William and Shelby Thurston perhaps it is timely to remember the importance of the health and safety laws, not only as they relate to funfairs but also self-employees in the industry.
On March 26, 2016, at the Harlow Town Park Fun Fair, 7 year old Summer Grant was playing on the Circus Super Dome inflatable when the wind lifted the inflatable and carried it "flipping and spinning" down a hill before hitting trees and a fence. Tragically, Summer died of her injuries in hospital hours after the incident.
Married couple Shelby and William Thurston were in charge of the Circus Super Dome and another slide that day as part of the inflatable play ground and were arrested on suspicion of manslaughter by gross negligence.
The couple were later charged with the unlawful killing of Summer Grant by gross negligence in a breach of duty to take reasonable care to ensure the inflatable was adequately anchored to the ground, to monitor the weather conditions and ensure they were suitable for the inflatable to be in use.
They were further charged with failing to discharge their duty under section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974; failing to ensure the safety of those not in their employment, including Summer Grant. They faced the allegations in their capacity as self employed operators.
In the Cheltenham Crown Court, the trial lasted three weeks and the couple were both found guilty of manslaughter by a majority verdict of 10 to 2 and unanimously of the health and safety charges. The Thurstons await sentence with Mr Justice Garnham indicating he would be “seriously considering imprisonment”.
William and Shelby Thurston had significant experience in the fairground industry and their families had been operating in the fairground industry for generations.
The inflatable was purchased by Shelby Thurston’s father; William Searle in 2014 who it was established was in fact the owner of the inflatable. He had trained his daughter as a controller.
The court heard that dome inflatables are very different to ordinary bouncy castles and too much pressure in the dome causes it to overpressure and bend up at the sides – therefore, the blower pressure needs to be controlled by the operator. Furthermore, the dome had 17 anchorage points when the British Standard is 24. The Met Office had issued a yellow weather warning for the day and witnesses described the day as windy and wet. The maximum wind speed for the use of inflatables outside is 38km per hour (23.6mph) and safety guidelines advise against the use of inflatables in high winds. In the hour of the incident, wind speeds reached up to 40mph and the air ambulance had to divert because of the weather conditions.
The prosecution argued that the couple did not monitor the weather conditions of the day and failed to adequately anchor the bouncy castle. The Thurstons’ failures amounted to gross negligence and they exposed Summer to a risk to her safety, as Tracy Ayling QC for the prosecution told the jury: “21st century equipment like bouncy castles, need 21st century science to monitor the weather.”
A significant number of fairground workers are self employed and not all as experienced as the Thurstons. Work is seasonal but Health and Safety law applies equally to both self-employees and employers in the fairground industry. The law requires self-employed ride controllers to manage hazards and risks surrounding their running and operating of fair ground rides; working safely and not creating risk to themselves or other people. For health and safety law purposes, a person not working under a contract of employment and work only for themselves is defined as self-employed. Operators and attendants need to do everything reasonably practicable to make sure employees and others are safe in areas under their control to avoid not only health and safety breaches but tragedies of this kind.
As the travelling funfair season continues and the Thurstons await sentence this case serves as a reminder to those in the industry of their obligations and the importance of compliance.