The tragic death of a Durham University student as he queued in a crowd outside a nightclub was ‘expected, foreseeable and preventable’, a court heard today.
Olivia Burt, 20, suffered fatal head injuries when a ‘press of people’ fell on her with a ‘decorative curtain’.
Jamie Hill, KC, prosecuting, said his head hit the concrete pavement before the metal bars of the curtain and the weight of other customers also fell on his head, Teesside Crown Court was told.
The first-year undergraduate student at Durham University was waiting with friends outside a ‘full’ Missoula bar in the city to attend a student night event called ‘Game Over’ when the tragedy struck.
Mr Hill said the club’s owners, Stonegate Pub Company, should not have used ‘inappropriate’ screens to control crowds, failed to ‘properly assess risk’, had insufficient staff on duty and had ‘ignored danger warning signs. Including an incident 31 minutes before the tragedy.
Olivia Burt, 20, was trapped under a metal barrier that collapsed just before midnight on February 7 as she walked outside the Missoula nightclub in Durham’s Walkergate area.
Bart was pictured with his family who revealed they were ‘heartbroken’
Stonegate – Britain’s biggest pub company – has denied four health and safety complaints over the tragedy in Durham in February 2018.
Durham County Council brought charges against it.
The court heard the club has a capacity of 630 and many of the fans who attended Wednesday night’s event were members of university sports teams who regularly attended after matches.
Olivia was a member of the Sailing Club and also a member of the British Sailing Team.
In the past different clubs were given different time slots for staggered arrivals. There was ‘little or no competition’ from other venues on the night and judges were told they had to consider whether the club had enough resources to cope with the ‘excessive numbers’.
Mr. Hill detailed the events leading up to the tragedy.
He said CCTV showed queues of students forming after 11pm as the place was filled ‘to capacity’.
He said the decorative screen at the center of the case is made of panels placed inside a metal structure, but not fixed to the ground because the precinct’s landlord was denied permission.
Clubbers were told to queue next to it for at least 12 months and nobody at Stonegate had done any risk assessment of it.
Mr Hill said people often drank before queuing at nightclubs. He said: ‘The queues for Missoula on student night were high-spirited at times and there was probably some pushing and shoving from time to time.’
At 11.17 pm a part of the screen fell and four men lifted it up.
The two panels came out of the screen and were placed to one side. A structure that was already inadequate for crowd management purposes has been further weakened,’ said Mr Hill.
The incident has been described as a ‘significant missed opportunity’. Mr Hill said once the curtain fell ‘students should have moved’ or cleared the area.
Rebuilding the barrier and allowing workers to continue queuing ‘allowed conditions to lead to Olivia’s death,’ he said.
Jamie Hill, KC, prosecuting, said his head hit the concrete pavement before the metal bars of the curtain and the weight of other customers also fell on his head.
Olivia was a member of the Sailing Club and also a member of the British Sailing Team
Prosecutors said there were not enough doormen to control the crowd that night.
Olivia and her friends arrived after the first barrier fell and were ‘unaware of the danger.’
After 11.30 am the venue was full but students lined up outside.
Mr Hill said security staff were failing to cope with the crowd.
At 11.48 pm, some students leaned against the decorative curtain.
‘Olivia fell through the panel, the screen went off, others fell and tragically Olivia died Despite the efforts of initially students, door staff and later paramedics, nothing could be done. He suffered severe head injuries.’
Mr Hill said the health and safety failings he outlined made ‘the fatal accident foreseeable, predictable and preventable.’
Stonegate said in writing that the screen was not used for crowd control purposes, that door staff did not follow queue management policies and that the fatal accident was ‘unexpected.’
It claims to have done things ‘reasonably practicable to reduce or eliminate the risk’.
Stonegate is the UK’s largest pub company with more than 4,600 pubs and Missoula was one of around 800 sites operated by Stonegate, the court heard.
The case continues.
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