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Student waiting to get into bar killed by “unsuitable” screen used to manage queue

A 20-year-old student died as she was waiting to get into a bar because an “unsuitable” heavy screen fell and collapsed on her.

Olivia Burt received an “unsurvivable” head injury, a court heard.

Olivia Burt was a first-year natural sciences student and member of the sailing club at Durham University.

Olivia Burt

She was queueing to get into a busy Wednesday night Game Over event at the Missoula bar, popular with university sports teams when she was trapped under barrier and crushed.

Prosecutors said the accident in February 2018 was “foreseeable, predictable and preventable”. Stonegate Pub Company, which owned Missoula, has denied four breaches of health and safety legislation.

Jamie Hill KC, prosecuting for Durham county council, told the court that Burt, from Milford on Sea in Hampshire, lost her life while queueing at about midnight.

He said: “She and her friends, and others waiting to gain access, were standing next to a decorative screen which marked an area used by customers sitting outside. This screen should not have been used as a crowd control barrier or for queue management purposes.

“As the queue swelled, the press of people caused Olivia to fall through a panel in the screen and then a section of the screen fell, with other customers landing on top. Olivia’s head hit the concrete pavement and the metal bar of the screen with the weight of other customers landed on her head. She suffered an unsurvivable head injury.”

Risk assessment failure in crowd management

Hill said the prosecution case was that Stonegate failed to ensure Burt’s safety and that of other customers, failed to properly assess risks, used inappropriate equipment and ignored danger signs.

CCTV footage showed queues building up after 11pm as the venue filled towards its capacity of 630, the court heard.

“For at least 12 months, when queues formed, students were asked to stand along the side of the decorative screen,” Hill said. “Nobody from Stonegate had carried out any specific risk assessment of this measure. Nobody from the club had turned their mind to the dangers.”

A nightclub queue was different from that of a museum, he said, as some people would have had a drink and at times there would be pushing and shoving, “but nothing like a football crowd”.

Hill said: “We say that by bringing the decorative screen into use to direct and order the queue to the back door, the club were using it for a purpose for which it was entirely unsuitable.”

He said the screen was a heavy one. About 30 minutes before the fatal accident, it toppled over and it took four people to lift it back into place.

Two panels had come off it and the structure, which was “already unfit for the purpose of crowd management, had been further weakened,” Hill said.

The earlier collapse of the screen was an “important missed opportunity”, the prosecution said, and students should have been moved away from it.

Hill said: “By re-erecting that barrier and allowing the queueing to continue, we say they allowed the conditions leading to Olivia’s death to persist.”

The trial continues and is expected to last three weeks.

(Source: The Guardian)

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