Girl, 7, died due to 'gross negligence' of Cambridgeshire couple, court told

William Thurston and Shelby Thurston
William Thurston and Shelby Thurston

A seven year old girl died due to gross negligence and failure to correctly install a fairground attraction, a court heard today, Tuesday April 17.

Summer Grant, died from multiple injuries after a strong gust of wind swept the inflatable across a park in Harlow, Essex, on March 26 2016.

Shelby Thurston, 25, and husband William Thurston, 28, from Cambridgeshire, who were responsible for the bouncy castle are jointly charged with gross negligence manslaughter and deny the charge.

Prosecuting Ms Tracy Ayling QC said: "On Saturday 26th March 2016, Summer Grant went with her father and members of her family to Thurstons Funfair at Harlow Town Park.

"The weather was cold and windy."

Summer was playing in a bouncy castle known as the Circus SuperDome that was not properly anchored to the ground, the court heard.

Ms Ayling explained that Mr and Mrs Thurston are separately charged with failure to discharge a duty under section three of the Health and Safety at Work act because each individual holds an individual duty of care.

She said that the Thurston's had failed "to ensure that it was adequately anchored to the ground."

Ms Ayling explained that it was the Thurston's responsibility to "take steps to properly monitor the weather conditions."

When summarising the charges against the Thurstons, Ms Ayling said: "These are not alternative counts, ladies and gentlemen, the Crown will ask you to prove all three of them."

Ms Ayling then talked the jury through evidence, comprising of pictures of a large slide, small slide and the Circus SuperDome.

The jury were instructed to study the "anchorage points" at which the SuperDome in which Summer had been playing had broken.

Ms Ayling said: "Those anchorage points and the weather are really what this case is about.

"The weather forecast for the Easter weekend, the weekend that we are dealing with, was stormy.

"Due to light rain, the defendants delayed the opening of their ride by about 15 minutes."

Ms Ayling ran the jury through evidence they would hear in the coming weeks.

They were shown videos of the windy condition on the day that Summer played on the SuperDome.

These included witnesses who had been at the fairground on the day in question, one of whom apparently chose to "pack up and call it day due to rainy, windy weather."

Ms Ayling spoke of staff "leaving the fairground due to the weather" and "gates falling over due to wind."

She said that these incidents had been reported to funfair workers, who were taking down rides due to the wind.

Ms Ayling recited a fairground "Pets Corner" workers statement to the police.

She said the worker called the weather "rough, windy and blustery and rainy intermittently."

She added: "The wind feel as about seven out of ten, if one is still day and ten is a howling gale."

The jury were showed a video of Summer using the inflatable slide, which her father paid £3 for her to use.

The slide, which was also run by the Thurston's was next to the SuperDome.

Ms Ayling explained that the "candy cane shaped anchorage pegs" for the slide were not correctly placed in the ground.

She then moved onto Summer's time in the SuperDome and described Summer's father's reaction to seeing his daughter in the inflatable.

Ms Ayling said: "He turned and saw that the dome inflatable had lifted into the air, and appeared to hit a caravan before lifting in the air.

"He shouted, 'My daughter's in there,' and tried to catch it.

"It was rolling almost all the time, cartwheeling in the air, it only stopped when it crashed into a fence at the bottom of the park."

Ms Ayling said that Thurston had also run after the inflatable, and went inside it, then carried Summer out.

She said: "It appeared that she was very badly inured and struggling to breathe."

Ms Ayling said that the inflatable "was rolled up, placed in a trailer, attached to a silver pick up vehicle, and taken away.

"Summer was taken by road to the Princess Alexander hospital, a short distance away, where, as I already said, she died."

William Thurston, who wore a navy suit, white shirt and dark red tie, and Shelby Thurston, wore a black cape over a white top and black skirt did not speak, but leafed through evidence as it was described.

The court heard how health and safety guidelines state that inflatables should not be used at wind speeds over 19 mph - and that, according to a meteorologist, wind speeds reached between 35 and 40 mph on the day of Summer's death.

Ms Ayling said: "I'm coming to the interview that the defendants gave to the police on the 27th March."

They court heard that the Thurston's own three bouncy castles and a water ride -for which they do daily safety checks together.

Ms Ayling said that Shelby told the police that she goes inside the inflatable to check for wear and tear.

She said that the SuperDome was purchased in 2014 from Dome Inflatables - and was given to Mrs Thurston by her father when she got married, as a gift in 2015.

The court heard that the inflatable dome was attached to the ground by 15 anchor points, each of which includes a metal D ring - the stakes came with the dome when it was purchased.

Mrs Thurston told the police that there was slightly misty rain, which soon cleared up on the day of Summer's death.

She said that she and her husband check the Met Office regularly.

Ms Ayling cited from Mrs Thurston's interview with the police: "She says she is addicted to the Met Office app, because their business relies on it."

She added: "Shelby stands between the dome and the small slide, and charges £3 for ten minutes on both inflatables."

The court hear that the couple agreed to deflate the big slide as it got windy.

Mrs Thurston told the police that she planned to let Summer finish her last minutes in the dome, and then take the dome down.

Ms Ayling said Mrs Thurston told the police: "Then there was a gust, like a freak tornado type wind - a massive gust that came out of nowhere."

The court heard that Mrs Thurston said that there was no wind at the time the Summer was on the dome, and that the couple were just taking extra precautions by taking it down.

Ms Ayling said that the police were told that there was no reason to believe that Summer was not safe.

"Mr Thurston answered no comment when asked about what it looks like on the weather app when there is a wind warning."

Mr Thurston answered no comment to all questions asked in his final interview, but gave a prepared statement reiterating what he had previously said.

Ms Ayling spoke about the inflatable and its formal inspection.

She said: "Its most significant shortfall was an insufficient number of round anchorage points.

"This means that even when secured to the ground using all of these, the inflatable could still blow away.

Ms Ayling cited health and safety guidelines which said: "The operator should ensure that there are a sufficient number of anchor points, if they construct the inflatable.

"Inflatables are great fun, but accidents involving broken limbs and necks can happen."

She told the court that a health and safety inspection of the dome after Summer's death found that the marking of the exit to the dome was not right, nor was the area by which the inflating blower was meant to be attached to the dome.

Miss Ayling said: "Its annual examination had failed to identify its shortfall in the anchorage points, and had failed to show the faults in the electrical wiring on the dome."

The court heard that a meteorologist "confirmed that weather warnings had been in place that day, and wind speeds and gusts had increased as the day had gone on."

The meteorologist confirmed about the Met Office app: "If the app was working, with signal, the warning would have been displayed."

The jury were shown a information from the National Association of Inflatable Hirers, which described "under-recognised hazards" including "instability and blowing away in windy conditions, anchorage on the right hand side" and details about "adequate anchorage."

The trial continues at Chelmsford Crown Court and is expected to last three weeks.

Summer was from Hellesdon, Norfolk, and the Thurstons are from Wilburton, Cambs.