Girl's death on theme park ride exposed 'systemic failures of safety'

Drayton Manor bosses raised concerns over water rapids ride just three weeks before death of 11-year-old girl Evha Jannath as court told the tragedy exposed ‘systemic failures of safety’

  • Evha Jannath drowned after she was ‘propelled’ from the Splash Canyon ride 
  • Tragedy struck during end-of-year school trip with staff and classmates in 2017 
  • Health and Safety Executive brought a prosecution against Staffordshire park 

Drayton Manor bosses raised concerns over a water rapids ride just three weeks before the death of a schoolgirl, with the tragedy exposing ‘systemic failures of safety’ at the theme park, a court heard today. 

Evha Jannath was jolted from a vessel on the Splash Canyon ride in Staffordshire during an end-of-year school trip with friends from Jameah Girls Academy in Leicester on May 9 2017.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) brought a prosecution against the park for not properly ensuring the safety of its guests, with Drayton Manor already admitting breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

It was also heard how just 27 days before the fatal incident, the ride’s operating staff raised issues with the visibility of the CCTV system, people getting out of their seats and the warning signs, at an after-hours work meeting.

At the start of a two-day sentencing hearing at Stafford Crown Court today, James Puzey, barrister for the HSE, told the judge the accident happened ‘in context of the systemic failures of safety on this ride’.

‘The control measures they had were failing every day,’ he added.

Evha Jannath drowned after she was ‘propelled’ from a six-seater vessel on the Splash Canyon ride at Drayton Manor Theme Park in Staffordshire in May, 2017

Aerial view of the Splash Canyon attraction at a deserted Drayton Manor theme park near Tamworth, Staffordshire, following the incident which was ruled an accident by the coroner

A High Court judge, who will pass sentence tomorrow, heard from the park’s own barrister Richard Matthews QC, who said it was ‘a corporate failing’.

Evha was ejected from the boat while standing up out of her seat, and although initially unhurt, later fell into 12ft of water after plunging from the conveyor belt which takes vessels to the ride exit.

The HSE’s lawyers said there was ‘inadequate’ signage for those on the ride telling them to stay seated, ‘inadequate training’ for staff, an element of under-staffing and a lack of emergency planning.

Mr Puzey said static ride CCTV only covered 50% of the course and was ‘not an effective means of monitoring the boats’ or their passengers’ behaviour.

The court heard that although signs warned passengers to stay seated, people still got up – but Mr Puzey said the management of that risk was the ride operator’s responsibility.

A technical analysis found that people standing up on the ride was ‘relatively frequent’ and that on ‘9% to 16%’ 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.

The court also heard that in separate incidents between 2011 and 2013, four people plunged from boats – or ended up being swept – into what was the deepest part of the ride’s course, known as the trough, which is where Evha ended up drowning.

Although none of those falling passengers were injured, the court heard details of one involving a 10-year-old boy in August 2013 which bore similarities to the fatal incident.

The boy was ejected from the ride at the same point as Evha and – like her – was not spotted by ride staff, instead being pulled to safety by a quick-witted member of the public who climbed a safety rail.

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.

Evha, 11, died after being airlifted to Birmingham Children’s Hospital from Drayton Manor theme park on May 9, 2017. Pictured, the Splash Canyon Ride in a file photo

Evha’s brother Muhammed Islam, left, arriving at the inquest into her death in November 2019

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.’ 

The court was told 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 added: ‘There are nine CCTV cameras that were in use at the time of this incident at various points around the ride and at the station.

‘In total, the coverage by the CCTV cameras covers around 50 per cent but these cameras provide a fixed view and do not have the ability to pan about or zoom.

‘There is a camera covering the final bend at which Evha fell from the raft.

‘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.

‘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.’ 

Mr Puzey said Drayton Manor ‘accepts it failed to appreciate the seriousness of risk identified in this case – falling out and not being rescued’.

Although a fine of anything up to £2.5 million is set to be issued, the judge was told that Drayton Manor Parks Ltd, which operated the site at the time, is now in administration with its assets – including the park – under new ownership.

Splash Canyon has never reopened since Evha’s death.

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