Warwick Castle responds to outcome of court case

WARWICK, UNITED KINGDOM - AUG 18, 2011: Aerial GV of Warwick Castle.'(Photo: Nick Wilkinson/Newsteam)
WARWICK, UNITED KINGDOM - AUG 18, 2011: Aerial GV of Warwick Castle.'(Photo: Nick Wilkinson/Newsteam)

WARWICK Castle has issued a statement following the outcome of the trial in which the company which runs the site was found guilty of failing to protect its visitors.

At Warwick Crown Court on Tuesday Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd, the company which runs the castle, was found guilty of two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The charges brought by Warwick District Council followed the death of 72-year-old George Frederick Townley from Berkswell on December 9, 2007.

Mr Townley was leaving the castle via the Bear and Clarence Bridge when he stumbled and fell over the low parapet wall, which was just over a foot high.

The pensioner fell about 14 feet into the dry moat below and died from his injuries.

Merlin was found guilty of failing to take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent or protect visitors when entering or leaving the castle via the bridge from falling from a considerable height.

It was also found guilty of failing in its duty to provide preventative and protective measures.

In passing sentence, Judge Nigel Godsmark QC said he accepted Merlin took its health and safety duties seriously but that the bridge had been a ‘blind spot’ which had been overlooked with tragic consequences and these could have been avoided had a suitable risk assessment been carried out.

The company was also ordered to pay £145,000 costs to the district council.

n Warwick Castle has said: “Warwick Castle is very disappointed at the outcome of this hearing.

“Our whole business culture is based on providing a safe and enjoyable day out for all our visitors, and we take that responsibility very seriously.

“We employ the highest possible standards, and have stringent and robust risk analysis and health and safety procedures in place across our business.

“These are regularly reviewed by our own team together with input from independent experts including highly experienced heritage architects, the local authority, the Environmental Health Officer, and English Heritage, in line with new information/requirements.

Most importantly, the bridge from which Mr Townley fell has formed one of the entrances to Warwick Castle for at least 200 years.

“Since 1978 more than 20 million people have visited the Castle and many will have crossed this bridge at least once during their visit, without a single reported accident, near miss or complaint of any nature.

“We will therefore now review the findings of the case and decide what further action it would be appropriate to take.”

n WARWICK District Council has drawn attention to the bridge being identified as a hazard in a Public Entertainment Licence condition in 1995 and a Fabric Survey Risk Assessment in 2003.

It said Merlin failed to pass this information to relevant managers at Warwick Castle, including the health and safety officer.

The jury heard that Merlin failed to act on these warnings and they did not undertake a site specific risk assessment of the Bear and Clarence Bridge until the 10 December 2007, the day after the fatal accident.

Rob Chapleo, a divisional environmental health officer for the council said: “Merlin Attractions Operations Limited were made aware that there was a risk of falling from the bridge on two separate occasions before the fatal accident.

“Mr Townley’s fatal accident was foreseeable and would not have occurred if Merlin had undertaken a ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessment which, in the council’s view, would have identified the need to provide barriers to the sides of the bridge.

“These would have prevented people falling into the moat.

“I hope that this successful prosecution will draw the attention of the operators of sites open to the public to the need to undertake proper risk assessments and implement the measures necessary to protect visitor safety.”