Two young women on the Smiler ride suffered leg amputations and others suffered severe injuries when their carriage collided with a stationary carriage on the same track in June 2015.
Stafford Crown Court heard that on the day of the incident, engineers overrode the Smiler’s control system without the knowledge and understanding to ensure it was safe to do so. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found no fault with the track, the cars, or the control system that keeps the cars apart from each other when the ride is running.
Investigators found the root cause to be a lack of detailed, robust arrangements for making safety critical decisions. There was no working or safety manual provided for the Smiler and the whole system, from training to fixing faults, was not strong enough to stop a series of errors by staff when working on the ride.
Following the incident, Alton Towers made technical improvements to the ride and changed their systems.
The level of the fine is a record for a non-fatal accident in the UK and is the first major case to be heard under the new Sentencing Guidelines for Health & Safety Offences.
Since the guidelines were introduced in February 2016, fines have been on the increase, with several fines in the £1M+ bracket, sums previously reserved only for major accidents with multiple fatalities. Sentencing Guidelines have now been implemented for a range of regulatory health, safety and environmental offences. Business should be on notice that these fines may be much more significant in future.