Dreamspace victims win payouts

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VICTIMS of the fatal Dreamspace inflatable artwork tragedy are to get compensation.

Grandmother Elizabeth Collings, 68 – known by her middle name Anne – and hospital radiographer Claire Furmedge, 38, died when the giant installation was blown into the air at Chester-le-Street Riverside Park.

Others suffered physical injuries and mental trauma, leading to claims for damages against Chester-le-Street District Council and event organisers Brouhaha International Limited (BIL).

Yesterday, London’s High Court heard that claims made by the victims’ husbands, Gary Furmedge, of Chester-le-Street, and ex-Hawthorn Cokeworks foreman William Collings, of Seaham, had been settled.

Another made by former Murton pit wages clerk Mrs Collings’ daughter Susan Campbell, also of Seaham, had been settled. No figures have been revealed.

A court battle is now under way to decide who should pay compensation cash.

Durham County Council, which replaced the district council on whose land the incident happened in 2006, claims BIL was the more responsible party.

Speaking before judge Mr Justice Foskett, council barrister Lord Faulks QC said: “Whatever your Lordship decides, there will be compensation.

“Nearly all the cases have now settled, certainly the three that are the subject of these claims.”

The court heard the council and BIL have already admitted Health and Safety breaches in relation to the incident, which saw the sculpture lifted off the ground because of “inadequate anchorage”.

But BIL should take the greater proportion of the blame, said Lord Faulks, and should be responsible for paying no less than two thirds of the damages.

“On its own case, BIL promoted the event to members of the public, provided the experienced team which erected the structure and provided the staff who supervised members of the public who visited it,” he said.

“It knew that the whole purpose of the exhibition was that members of the public should enter the structure and it was plainly envisaged that members of staff would be in the structure at the same time.

“By its own admission, BIL should have conducted its own risk assessment of the safety of the structure.

“It is plainly just and reasonable that it should have owed a duty of care at common law to those visiting the Dreamspace 5 in Chester-le-Street.”

Artist Maurice Agis was cleared of manslaughter, but convicted of health and safety breaches.

The court heard that BIL, which created the attraction, had not carried out an investigation after the inflatable lifted off the ground at an earlier event at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Lawyers for BIL said its role in Dreamspace’s tour was not such as to give it any duty of care to members of the public, in relation to the safety of the installation.

“A sensible arrangement has been made between the council and BIL, whereby the various claims brought by the injured and deceased had been handled by experienced personal injury solicitors and, by and large, have been compromised,” said Stephen Grime QC.