A judge has today (Friday) imposed fines and costs totalling more than £100,000 after an unsafe hotel balcony suffered a “catastrophic failure” and crashed to the ground causing life-changing injuries to four women.
The group had gone to the Casa Hotel in Brighouse because the hotel was going to offer a room as a lot in a charity auction for nearby Highbury School, but as they looked around the renovated bridal suite they were invited out onto the balcony by owner Jack McDaid.
One of the women Michelle Mallinson asked if the first floor balcony was safe and was told by Mr McDaid: ”Yes, it’s sound.”
But seconds later the structure, which had been installed several years earlier, suddenly gave way.
Mr McDaid had to be airlifted to hospital following the collapse of the balcony in February 2013 and today a judge at Bradford Crown Cour heard details of the severe injuries suffered by the four women.
Vanessa Reynolds, who remembered ending up on all fours on the ground, spent four days in intensive care and had to have a damaged kidney removed.
Deborah Waterhouse suffered a fractured left forearm which needed surgery and bone-grafting and the court heard she now had a plate in her arm and large scar.
Prosecutor Stephen Uttley said Norma Mazeika suffered fractures to her skull and limbs and a shattered right eye socket.
In her victim impact statement she described how she had to use a wheelchair for three months and had undergone seven operations in the year after the incident.
The court heard as a result of her injuries the family had been looking to buy a bungalow to make things easier for her and her children.
Mr Uttley said she was still suffering double vision and there was nerve damage to the right side of her face.
Michelle Mallinson suffered fractures to her spine which required surgery and she described in her statement how she had to use a mobility scooter to go supermarket shopping.
She said she still struggled with day-to-day tasks and had been diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic strees disorder.
The two companies which were involved in the running of the hotel and restaurant, Castelite Limited and Casa Events Limited, both admitted breaches of health and safety legislation by failing to ensure the safety of visitors to the premises and their staff and today Judge Jonathan Durham said the balcony had been installed “on the cheap” and in a “cowboy fashion”.
Mr McDaid, the director of Castelite Ltd, had claimed that local fabricator Graham Robinson had installed the balcony, but after hearing evidence from both men the judge accepted that Mr Robinson had only fitted a steel balustrade to the existing platform.
During a lengthy hearing the court heard that the platform had been poorly fixed to the wall of the hotel and no checks had been made to see if it had been installed properly.
A few weeks before the collapse the balustrade had been replaced with a heavier glass one.
The court heard that the combination of the people stepping onto the balcony and the added weight of the new balustrade had led to the bolts fixing the structure to the wall coming loose.
“Mr McDaid, I regret to say, I am sure had this work done by somebody, using the more expensive professionals’ designs, but undoubtably on the cheap and not by Mr Robinson,” concluded Judgr Durham Hall.
The judge said it was a miracle that no-one died and suggested that Mr McDaid had fallen victim again to his own “corner-cutting and cost saving”.
“He knows he must and should have had this balcony rigorously inspected.”
The judge said the clamping on of the balcony in a “cowboy fashion” had put lives at risk.
“These were four healthy ladies who have been very, very seriously affected by something that should never have happened,” said judge Durham Hall.
Castelite Ltd was fined £75,000 for its health and safety breach while Casa Events Lted must pay a fine of £15,000.
Castelite will also have to pay £15,000 in costs together with another fine of £5000 and cost of £5000 in relation to its failure to comply with an unrelated planning enforcement notice.
Barrister Andrew Thomas QC, for the companies, said the business, which employed about 50 staff, faced an uncertain future because of on-going issues surrounding the refusal of planning permision for an extension which had been built on the site.
Mr Thomas suggested the failings had been “naive” rather than a reckless disregard for safety and he pointed out that the £1000 cost of getting the balcony checked by a structural engineer would have been a drop in the ocean compared to the money invested in the business.
“It is oversight rather than a culture of cost-cutting or cutting corners that has led to this failure,” he submitted.
Mr Thomas said it was a poignant fact that Mr McDaid had told the women it was safe moments before the balcony collapsed.
The court heard that Mr McDaid himself spent a month in hospital being treated for his injuries which included several fractures and he had been diagnosed as suffering from depression.
Mr Thomas said Mr McDaid had genuine sympathy for, and empathy with, the four wholly innocent victims.