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Trampoline park owners fined after 11 people broke their backs

Two men who owned a trampoline park where 11 people broke their backs and hundreds more got injured have been fined and ordered to do community service.

David Shuttleworth, 34, and Matthew Melling, 33, were both directors of Flip Out Chester, which was only open for two months, between December 2016 and February 2017.

During their sentencing on Tuesday, Chester Crown Court heard how an investigation was opened after staff at a local A&E became concerned with the number of people being taken there after visiting the trampoline park.

Some suffered severe spinal injuries during those two months, the court heard, with some resulting in life-long health problems.

A total of 123 visitors suffered “knee to face” injuries causing dental and facial injuries, while others broke ribs and sprained their wrists.

All injuries, many of which involved children, came while using the park’s “tower jump” – where visitors dropped 17ft 3in into a foam pit.

The court heard how on 6 January 2017, a staff member broke her back, bursting her vertebrae, jumping from the tower. The next day there were 11 accidents, then six on 13 January and another six on 18 January.

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Shuttleworth and Melling both pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to a single count of negligence under health and safety law.

On Tuesday, Shuttleworth was fined £6,500 and Melling £6,300, with each ordered to complete 250 hours of unpaid community service.

Additionally, Shuttleworth was ordered to pay £50,000 costs and Melling £10,000 costs, to go towards the £250,000 prosecution costs and council investigation.

Judge Michael Leeming acknowledged the punishment was “less than many people hoped for and many people think you deserve,” adding it was because the two defendants were negligent rather than committing deliberate acts or cost-cutting at the expense of safety.

“There’s no evidence the company took any steps at all, including reasonably practical ones to reduce or eliminate those risks,” he said during the sentencing. “Common sense says investigating why an accident has happened reduces the risk of further accidents.”

Judge Leeming said Shuttleworth had the “unfortunate” attitude which suggested minor injuries “go with the territory” at a trampoline park.

The defendants’ company, Shuttleworth and Melling Ltd, went into liquidation in 2021. A number of personal injury claims are being pursued or have already been settled.

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Councillor Christine Warner, of Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “The statistics in this case are truly shocking.

“These directors were both aware that members of the public were being injured but their approach to investigating why that was happening, and therefore ensuring public safety, was negligent.”

A spokesman for Flip Out, which has 30 centres in the UK, previously said: “The incidents relate to a specific piece of equipment that was immediately closed. Our systems and procedures have evolved significantly since.”

‘I could have been left paralysed’

Liza Jones, a cardiac nurse from Wrexham, north Wales, was one of those who shattered her spine after jumping from the tower into a foam pit.

Ms Jones, who was 26 at the time of the incident, also burst one of her vertebrae, saying at the time: “It was really scary, it was the most pain I’ve ever suffered in my life.

“They said I had an unstable fracture and one of my vertebrae had burst, which meant I had fragments of bone sticking out that could have paralysed me.

“I didn’t know how serious it was until then and I was very scared of the operation and of my future.”

Reflecting on the guilty pleas, she said: “I’m glad they’ve faced court action because I could have been left paralysed.

“People visiting these centres may feel they’re safe because they’ve got rules for people to follow, but that’s just not true.

“The firms that are running them need to learn from this and ensure they’ve got proper health and safety in place.”

Sky News Source