Police feared air ambulance may not be able to land due to poor weather, after bouncy castle took off in windy condition killing girl, 7, court told

William Thurston and Shelby Thurston
William Thurston and Shelby Thurston

A seven year old girl died after a bouncy castle that she was in blew away to “tree-top height” in a gust of wind, a court heard today, Wednesday.

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, Tracy Ayling called several witnesses to give evidence this morning.

Calling Sergeant David Nicholls to the witness box, he said: “As soon as I exited the vehicle I noticed the weather conditions were very poor. There was a low, grey cloud and it was beginning to rain.

“I remember thinking the helicopter may not be able to land because it was so poor.”

The court heard that the sergeant was “concerned” as to how well the dome had been anchored to the ground as there were pins lying on the floor.

Later that night (26 Mar 2016), Sgt Nicholls gave the order to arrest Mr and Mrs Thurston on suspicion of manslaughter by gross negligence.

Ben Mansfield was at the funfair with his wife and son on the day that Summer died.

Miss Ayling asked Mr Mansfield what he saw when the bouncy castle blew away.

He said: “As we were leaving the park, I saw it blow away suddenly.

“I did not realise someone was in it. The park was quite empty. I saw it go but not how.

"There was a gust of wind, I could see the top of it.

“I would say it went maybe 15ft in the air, it was quite hard to gauge.

"I saw some people running after it. I saw a car following shortly afterwards, it was a pick up truck.”

Miss Ayling then called Aaron Cartwright, another person who attended the funfair that day, to give evidence.

Mr Cartwright told the court that he was at the fair with his family on the day of the incident.

He said: “All the children went on a few bouncy castles.

“They didn’t go on the dome but the big slide was the main attraction. It was wet and windy, just a bit of a dismal day really.”

Miss Ayling called Karen Hughes who was working at a farm, called Pets Corner, near to Harlow Park, on the day of the incident.

She said: “I went into Harlow town centre as we had some animals to take into the town centre for an Easter celebration.

“We had a gazebo put up. It was just a standard gazebo, that people could have in their garden. The animals were underneath.

“It was secured with weights, but as the day progressed we had to increase the weights and then we had men holding it down. The wind was picking up.

“It was raining on and off and the wind was picking up. There were not many people around so it was a decision by myself and the organiser to call it a day.

“I saw a bouncy castle slightly tipping onto its side before it rolled and then took off. It was tree top height. It was rolling and flying at the same time, bouncing occasionally.

“It stopped against the fence where our sheep are on the edge of the foot path of the town park.

“We heard a crack at the time it landed and I was going to speak to the organisers about the probability of it breaking the fence.

“At the time there was quite a few people looking after the young girl.

"I did not give assistance immediately but I was given a phone by someone to direct the emergency services.

“The bouncy castle was pulled off the fence, rolled up and put onto the trailer and towed away.”

“My job requires me to work outside most of the day and it was windy and there had been drizzle for most of the day.

“I was talking to Karen Hughes at the gate. Suddenly, Karen said, “Oh my god” and pointed in the direction of the fair.

“When I looked I saw a yellow dome type bouncy castle. It was flipping and spinning as it bounced. It was going towards the bottom part of the field towards the sheep.

“We began walking along the path and as we were walking the castle hit into the fence and trees.

"I could see there were people from the fair chasing after it and they reached it before us.

“Someone unzipped it and came out quickly with a young girl. They placed her in the recovery position and someone shouted ‘Someone call an ambulance.’

“I could see the castle had hit it with some force as it had snapped a branch. I could see the girl was getting some help.

“The ambulance arrived within a few minutes and I saw people from the fair had started to load the castle onto a trailer.

“The police arrived shortly after.”

Ethan Kilvington, another Pets Corner employee came to the witness stand.

He said that the bouncy castle “hit one of the tree branches, that stopped it. I believe it travelled about 100 to 150 metres.”

Tommy King, another Pets Corner employee, took to the stand. He said: “The roof of the gazebo (in the town centre) was flapping violently.

“It was quite strong winds. We packed up early because the weather was getting worse.”

Mr King said the police “cordoned off the area and started taking details from people in the area. They were using police tape and cones.

“The cones fell over and the tape was flapping away in the wind. We had to put more weights on the gazebo as the wind was really strong.”

Witness Richard Stewart, who was at the fair on the day with his wife and grandson, was called to give evidence.

Mr Stewart said: “It was not a particularly nice day and we were looking forward to getting the visit over and done with.

“It was for my grandson to experience the funfair. He wasn’t interested in the rides at all first of all. He went on the boating lake but the weather wasn’t great so he wasn’t fussed at all to start with.

“When he first got on the boat, it was pretty obvious the boat would be pushed back on the lake because of the wind.”

The court were shown video footage from Mr Stewart’s phone of his grandson on a boat in the inflatable lake.

Mr Stewart said: “I was concerned at the height of the water versus the weather conditions, and because of the boat being pushed back to the other side of the lake.

“I wanted to take my son off the boat sooner.

“Whilst he was on the fun fair there was a commotion and the lady running the fun house ran across behind us, making my wife and I turn round and look.

“We could see an object rolling down the hill.”

Another witness who had been at the fair on the day, Catherine Jackson, came to give evidence. She visited the park with her husband, daughter, son and friend’s son.

Mrs Jackson said that the weather was”grey and overcast”.

She said: “My son was on the large slide bouncy castle and my daughter was opposite on the trampolines. My husband and friend’s son was on the tea-cup ride.

“While I was stood watching them on that ride and there was a large metal barrier that fell down with quite a bang.

“It was about a foot away from me. I was stood looking at the attraction and it was behind me. It fell towards me. I was quite shocked.”

Mrs Jackson saw her son putting on his shoes, after he was told he would have to leave the the large inflatable slide because of the wind.

She said she had hoped for a refund, and that the wind had not been “consistently windy” when she entered the fair.

William Thurston, who wore a black suit, white shirt and black tie, and Shelby Thurston, who wore a black shirt and dark green skirt did not speak.

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

Summer was from Hellesdon, Norfolk, and the Thurston's are from Wilburton, Cambs.