Cambridgeshire fairground workers guilty of causing death of girl, 7, after bouncy castle takes off in high winds

William Thurston and Shelby Thurston arrive at court
William Thurston and Shelby Thurston arrive at court

Two Cambridgeshire fairground workers have today (Wednesday) been convicted of gross negligence manslaughter after a seven-year-old girl died when the bouncy castle she was playing on blew away in high winds.

William Thurston, 29, and Shelby Thurston, 26, denied responsibility for the death of Summer Grant, who suffered fatal injuries while at a funfair in Essex on 26 March 2016.

Summer Grant

Summer Grant

However, a jury at Chelmsford Crown Court today convicted the pair of gross negligence manslaughter following a three-week trial.

The court heard that Summer was playing on a bouncy castle at the fairground when it was swept away from its moorings, 300 metres down a hill.

Summer was taken to hospital but died from her injuries.

The defendants, who are married couple from Cambridgeshire, worked for Thurston’s Funfairs, a family-run business that operates funfairs across the country.

The court heard how on the day of the incident the wind speeds and gusts had been increasing throughout the day, with the highest gusts in the area of 35-40mph occurring late afternoon. But the couple continued to operate the bouncy castle and did not ensure that it was safely secured to the ground.

The pair were also found guilty of failing to discharge their health and safety duties.

They will be sentenced in due course.

Nicola Rutter from the CPS said: “William and Shelby Thurston failed to ensure that the bouncy castle was adequately anchored to the ground and failed to monitor the weather conditions to ensure that it was safe to have it in use.

“They denied their actions were negligent but the CPS and the police built a strong case, together with assistance from the Health and Safety Executive, and demonstrated to the jury that the Thurstons had breached their duty of care to Summer.”

“Our thoughts are with Summer’s family and friends.”

Opening the trial, prosecutor Tracy Ayling QC said the fairground workers had failed in their duty of care towards Summer and "caused her death" by breaching it.

Ms Ayling said: "They failed to anchor the inflatable to the ground, and to monitor the weather conditions to ensure the inflatable could be used."

She added: “She died as a result of the failure of their duty."

The court heard that the inflatable rolled up to 15 times in the air after it came off the ground.

Previously, the jury also heard that two inflatable inspectors examined the bouncy castle after the tragic event.

The inspectors said they identified a number of manufacturing failures, including a lack of anchorage points.

Last week, the court heard that the husband and wife had taken an inflatable slide down due to concerns with the weather shortly before the bouncy castle blew away.

Questioned by his defence counsel Charles Bott QC, William Thurston said he did feel "a sense of responsibility" for the death of Summer Grant.

However, he said he had no "scientific" way of measuring the wind speeds on the day Summer died.

Mrs Thurston told jurors that her family had been in the fairground business for "generations".

The court heard that Summer was still playing on the bouncy castle while Mr Thurston was taking down the slide.

Mrs Thurston said: "I had customers on the playground at that point. They still had a few more minutes of time. I said, 'I'll let them finish their go and then I'll take it down."

However, she told the jury that it "had not reached or got close to our critical point for wind".

William Thurston and Shelby Thurston, both from Wilburton, Cambs., denied manslaughter by gross negligence and a breach of section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The judge warned the pair may face jail when they are sentenced at a later date.

Justice Neil Garnham told them: “Let me make this crystal clear. All options are open. I shall seriously consider imprisonment.

“I will be considering all options in terms of sentence.”