Pub group fined £1.56m over student death

July 17, 2023

A judge has fined the UK’s largest pub group £1.56m after it was found guilty of a health and safety breach which contributed to the “senseless and avoidable” death of a first-year university student queueing to get into a venue in Durham.

Olivia Burt, a 20-year-old natural sciences student from Milford on Sea in the New Forest, died in February 2018 when a heavy decorative screen being used to manage the queue into the city centre’s Missoula bar collapsed and fell on her.

A member of the sailing club, Burt had been waiting to get into a regular Wednesday event night popular with university sports teams.

The screen collapsed on Burt, who received an “unsurvivable” head injury, Teesside crown court heard.

Stonegate Pub Company had denied health and safety breaches but a jury found it guilty on Thursday of one charge.

Judge Howard Crowson said the bar’s management missed an opportunity to prevent Burt’s death when a similar screen collapsed about 30 minutes previously. He added that the screens were designed for decoration, not crowd control, and he said he did not accept the defence argument that the screens in themselves were not dangerous.

“Once the screen had fallen, there was obviously a risk it would do so again,” he said. “In this case, in my view, the breach led to the death of Olivia Burt.”

He said Burt’s family had suffered an “incomprehensible tragedy”, adding: “The sentence does not attempt to measure the worth of Olivia’s life. Olivia’s life is, of course, priceless.”

The judge also ordered the company to pay £225,774 in costs.

During the trial Jamie Hill KC, prosecuting for Durham county council, said the death of Burt was “senseless and avoidable”.

He continued: “All she was doing was standing with her friends, waiting to get into a club which had targeted the student population as a way of filling their venue on Wednesday nights.

“She was an innocent woman doing nothing wrong and who deserved to be kept safe. She deserved to be protected by a large organisation that had a lot of written policies.

“It had risk assessments covering just about everything, policies that were supposed to cover all reasonably foreseeable eventualities.

“But the reality is that as soon as the venue, which had become the first-choice venue for students on a Wednesday night, was confronted with more customers than they could accommodate within their own set limits, all of the planning and all the risk assessments came to nought.”

This is valid as of 10th July 2023.

A judge has fined the UK’s largest pub group £1.56m after it was found guilty of a health and safety breach which contributed to the “senseless and avoidable” death of a first-year university student queueing to get into a venue in Durham.

Olivia Burt, a 20-year-old natural sciences student from Milford on Sea in the New Forest, died in February 2018 when a heavy decorative screen being used to manage the queue into the city centre’s Missoula bar collapsed and fell on her.

A member of the sailing club, Burt had been waiting to get into a regular Wednesday event night popular with university sports teams.

The screen collapsed on Burt, who received an “unsurvivable” head injury, Teesside crown court heard.

Stonegate Pub Company had denied health and safety breaches but a jury found it guilty on Thursday of one charge.

Judge Howard Crowson said the bar’s management missed an opportunity to prevent Burt’s death when a similar screen collapsed about 30 minutes previously. He added that the screens were designed for decoration, not crowd control, and he said he did not accept the defence argument that the screens in themselves were not dangerous.

“Once the screen had fallen, there was obviously a risk it would do so again,” he said. “In this case, in my view, the breach led to the death of Olivia Burt.”

He said Burt’s family had suffered an “incomprehensible tragedy”, adding: “The sentence does not attempt to measure the worth of Olivia’s life. Olivia’s life is, of course, priceless.”

The judge also ordered the company to pay £225,774 in costs.

During the trial Jamie Hill KC, prosecuting for Durham county council, said the death of Burt was “senseless and avoidable”.

He continued: “All she was doing was standing with her friends, waiting to get into a club which had targeted the student population as a way of filling their venue on Wednesday nights.

“She was an innocent woman doing nothing wrong and who deserved to be kept safe. She deserved to be protected by a large organisation that had a lot of written policies.

“It had risk assessments covering just about everything, policies that were supposed to cover all reasonably foreseeable eventualities.

“But the reality is that as soon as the venue, which had become the first-choice venue for students on a Wednesday night, was confronted with more customers than they could accommodate within their own set limits, all of the planning and all the risk assessments came to nought.”

This is valid as of 10th July 2023.

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