Theme park bosses raised concerns over the safety of a water rapids ride just three weeks before a schoolgirl drowned after falling from a dinghy, a court heard.
Drayton Manor Theme Park is facing a £2.5 million fine for a string of “systemic failures” after 11-year-old Evha Jannath died on the Splash Canyon ride.
Evha suffered a severe chest injury and fell off a travelator into the water as she tried to escape and was later pronounced dead at Birmingham’s Children Hospital.
An inquest later concluded her death was an accident but the Health and Safety Executive prosecuted the park for health and safety breaches.
The popular attraction, which has since been sold to a French firm after falling into administration, has admitted failure to ensure safety at the park.
On the first day of a two-day sentencing hearing at Stafford Crown Court today, a judge was told how safety concerns were raised just weeks before Evha’s death.
Prosecutor James Puzey also highlighted a series of failures at the park, which included lack of signs, poor quality of CCTV and no water rescue equipment.
Opening the case, Mr Puzey said: “This prosecution arises from an investigation into the death of Evha Jannath, at Drayton Manor on May 9, 2017.
“Evha was part of a group of five girls riding in the raft on Splash Canyon when she fell into the water towards the end of the ride.
“It appears that she was sitting on the step of the boat when it struck a deflector panel and propelled her into the water.”
Another guest, who was with her 12-month-old child in a pushchair, ran to alert staff as she waited for her husband and friend to come through on the ride, he said.
Staff then entered the water and retrieved Evha before performing CPR, “but were sadly unable to save her”, Mr Puzey continued.
“An investigation by the police and Health and Safety Executive revealed a series of failings on the part of the defendant in relation to public safety on this ride.
“The failings in this case are at an organisational level not a level of individuals.”
The court heard how a risk assessment from 2014 was in place but an out-of-hours meeting three weeks before Evha’s death had raised concerns over public safety.
Mr Puzey said static ride CCTV only covered 50 per cent of the course and was “not an effective means of monitoring the boats” or their passengers’ behaviour.
A technical analysis found that people standing up on the ride was “relatively frequent” and that on “9 per cent to 16 per cent” of journeys, passenger “misbehaviour” was observed.
Re-watching CCTV of the ride on the day of the accident, experts recorded 70 occasions of people standing up in the boats.
A report from April 26, 2017, only two or three weeks before the incident, records that it was recommended to improve the CCTV to improve monitoring of the ride, the prosecutor said.
He added: “Mr Ecclestone, the ride manager, recalls that when certain cameras broke it was decided by management that 100 per cent coverage was not required.
“The operator on duty that day had not observed any misbehaviour therefore he had not used the PA system to make any announcements.
“He accepted the CCTV did not cover the whole ride and he had no training in attempting a rescue on this ride and no rescue equipment on the course such as life belts and poles.
“But the staff had a critical role to play in ensuring the safety of members of the public.
“A further review was undertaken in April 2017 only three weeks before this incident as an opportunity for operators and attendants to discuss the ride.
“Amongst the topics talked about in the review was the boat condition, signage and boat signage missing.
“It was noted that there should be additional signage around the lift area advising guests to remain seated until the ride stops.
“Issues were also discussed about the emergency stop button being relocated and viewing the CCTV was not ideal as images were poor and there was glare from the sun.
“There were only 27 days between this meeting and the tragic incident to Evha in that short time nothing had been done to address these matters.”
The court was also told how theme park visitors would fall into the water surrounding the ride around “once or twice a year” and so the risk wasn’t theoretical.
And in separate incidents between 2011 and 2013, four people plunged into what was the deepest part of the ride’s course, known as the trough, which is where Evha ended up drowning.
One involving a 10-year-old boy in August 2013 which bore similarities to the fatal incident, the court was told.
After the fatal incident, a review concluded it was “an essential requirement” that those overseeing the water ride made sure people stayed in seats, and could “detect and react” to passengers falling in.
“A passenger who is in the water and is in the trough is in immediate danger from a number of immediate hazards which pose risks of death or serious injury,” it said.
The review concluded: “It appears that the past experience of the defendant of having people go into water but thereafter being rescued were taken as assurance this was not a high-risk situation.
“Such an interpretation would be seriously flawed.”
Richard Matthews QC, defending Drayton Manor, said: “We want to express the enormous regret for the loss of Evha’s life and for the admitted failures to achieve the necessary and high standard of safety planning in this tragedy.
“Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Evha and those closely affected by the tragedy.”