Pascal Bates prosecuted owner of inflatable that killed toddler

November 10, 2023

Pascal Bates

Pascal Bates has prosecuted fairground operations manager Curt Johnson and company, Johnsons Funfair Limited, for charges arising out of the death of a 3 year old.  The defendants ran a group of inflatable on Gorleston beach in Norfolk, including an unusual trampoline which had been constructed to be inflated and stoppered (rather than have air continuously fed in, like a traditional bouncy-castle device).  The trampoline exploded on Sunday 1 July 2018, throwing Ava-May Littleboy high into the air to land on the beach, sustaining fatal injuries.

Curt Johnson, on behalf of the company, had imported inflatables, including that trampoline, from China.  Emails recovered from his computer showed that he complained about the quality immediately after taking delivery of it the year before, but it was kept in use it despite there having been no proper checks on importation and there being no operating instructions, no proper risk assessment and no written procedure in place.

The case was an unusual joint prosecution between the Health and Safety Executive, which had responsibility in relation to the importation under section 6(1A)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and Great Yarmouth Borough Council, which had responsibility for the site operation under section 3(1).

Pascal Bates negotiated guilty pleas which left two key disputed issues.  First, the extent of Curt Johnson’s culpability, which despite Curt Johnson’s denials was established as high, by reason of his wilful blindness to the risk of offending.  Second, as to whether in law the safety failures could be said to have caused the death, given the inconclusive scientific evidence as to exactly why the trampoline exploded.  Pascal Bates established that, had the offences not been committed, the trampoline would not have been made available for public use, and thus that the offending was a significant cause of the death for sentencing purposes.

Curt Johnson was sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment and disqualified as a company director for 5 years.

The company was ordered to pay a fine and costs totalling more than £300,000.