Companies must pay almost £500,000 after man, 20, badly injured in zipwire accident at Bodyflight

Court news
Court news

A sports mad thrill seeker was left wheelchair bound after crashing at the bottom of a zipwire ride in Milton Ernest at around 35 miles per hour in “an accident waiting to happen”.

The companies responsible for the ride must pay a total of almost £500,000 in fines and costs following a court hearing this week.

The ride’s breaking system had not been reset with catastrophic consequences for Brett Anthony when it failed to kick in.

Brett, 20, who loved kayaking, rock climbing and mountain biking, hurtled down the wire over a distance of 200 metres before slamming into cables and a frame when the braking system failed to operate.

Brett, six feet four inches tall and super fit, sustained serious spinal and kidney injuries and was left paralysed from the waist down.

A Judge imposed fines and costs totaling nearly half a million pounds on the two companies who had been responsible for the zip wire attraction known as The Swoop.

Following Brett’s terrible accident in September 2011 it was shut down.

But in passing sentence on Flowhouse (Bedford) Ltd and Bodyflight Ltd at Luton Crown Court, Judge Phillip Bartle spelt out the true cost to Brett and how his life has been changed forever.

The judge said: “He is now paralysed from the waist down with associated loss of bladder, bowel and sexual function. He was treated for full renal failure but has now received a kidney transplant.”

Judge Bartle said: “He was an active 20 year old who enjoyed sport. He cannot live the life he led before the accident . He misses particularly sport. He cannot have an intimate relationship.”

The judge said the emotional impact of his injuries is something Brett is still trying to deal with.

He feels anger and frustration at not being able to do things. “He is always fighting to prove his independence,” said the judge. Then Judge Bartle said: “He misses his height. He is six feet four but in a chair he is shorter than most people and it is sometimes difficult to keep up a conversation in a group if people are standing up.”

The court heard Brett still like to see his friends, but he can’t go out on impulse and they usually have to come to see him.

Judge Bartle said: “He feels bad about this as they are making the effort to come to him. He sometimes feels like he is buying friends by providing the venue and being host all the time.

“He would like to find a girlfriend, get married and have a family. He is worried that his physical condition will deteriorate with time.”

Brett’s injuries were caused in the accident on September 1 2011 at Bodyflight on the Twinwoods Business Park in Milton Ernest where he worked as an instructor.

As a result of the accident Bedford Borough Council carried out an investigation which led to proceedings against Flowhouse and Bodyflight.

Brett was employed by Flowhouse and paid by Bodyflight and each company shared the same managing director.

In November of last year both pleaded guilty to three charges alleging failures in their respective duties to ensure the health and safety of its staff, failing to ensure, as was reasonably practicable, that employees and members of the public were not exposed to a risk to their health and safety and a failure to carry out a proper risk assessment in relation to operating The Swoop.

Brett had worked at Twinwoods for three years and become a team leader. He was one of the top flow riders in the UK and was expecting to win the 2011 European Flow Championships.

His parents Peter and Louise Anthony ran the Horse and Groom pub in Clapham.

The Swoop had been installed in April 2010 and was described by Bodyflight at the time as an “Exciting and entertaining adrenaline attraction.”

It was 208 meters long running from a launch platform on the roof of a lift shaft of a wind tunnel, 36.5 metres high.

Riders were connected to a zip wire by a body harness and would accelerate to speeds in excess of 35 miles per hour before rapidly decelerating some 20 metres before the end of the ride, thanks to the ride’s braking system.

Before any rider could come down the wire the braking system had to be reset.

Two employees oversaw any ride, an instructor on the platform who would ensure the rider was safely harnessed to the wire and a catcher back down on the ground who also had to ensure the braking mechanism was set before indicating by a flag to the instructor that it was safe for a rider to begin the descent.

In January 2011 there had been an incident, said the judge which he described a a “breakdown in communication” between catcher and instructor which had led to a young girl beginning her descent down the wire when the braking system had not been set.

Luckily the catcher managed to catch the youngster and she suffered only a minor cut.

However, said Judge Bartle the incident led to an official from Bedford Borough Council visiting the attraction and telling the owners that a proper risk assessment should be carried out - something that wasn’t done.

The judge said the prosecutions case is that the “defendants” had been reckless, whereas they had submitted they were careless and not reckless.

Judge Bartle said “I am satisfied that the defendants were reckless and not merely careless.”

He added: “They were aware of the risks of serious injury and it was unreasonable to take that risk”

The judge said there had been a failure at installation of The Swoop to to a risk assessment and following the incident in the January of 2011 there had been another failure to comply with a request from the council that one be carried out.

The judge then told the court “This was an accident waiting to happen and I have no doubt a fatality could have occurred.

“I accept the prosecution’s submissions that the defendants were involved in the operation of an inherently hazardous attraction which should have led to a high level of protection for employees and members of the public.”

He said because of the nature of the ride and the type of braking system in operation, it was “reasonably foreseeable” that situations would arise where the brakes had not been set and the signal for a rider to descend had been given.

Brett crashed at the bottom of the zip wire that day at approximately 40 miles per hour.

He was air lifted to Addenbrookes Hospital where he underwent lifesaving surgery.

Judge Bartle fined each company £200,000 and ordered each to pay costs of £32,878.