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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 May 2006, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Theme park safety record defended
Hayley Williams

The managing director of a west Wales theme park has defended its safety record, at the inquest into the death of a teenager on a rollercoaster.

Paddy McNamara said that around 120 million rides had been safely completed at Oakwood prior to 16-year-old Hayley Williams' death in April 2004.

He told Haverfordwest Coroner's Court safety was a priority and Oakwood had a good reputation for training staff.

Hayley, from Pontypool, fell 120ft from the hydro ride while on holiday.

The inquest jury has seen footage from the rollercoaster moments before Hayley fell to her death which suggested a safety bar had not been lowered.

It showed Hayley seat in the ride wearing a yellow plastic poncho to protect her from getting wet as the boat dropped down a near-vertical chute into a plunge pool at 50 mph.

We have cared so much for what we have done for so many years, we have cared for six million visitors
Oakwood MD Paddy McNamara

The court heard how the G-force as the boat plunged would have been capable of flipping out anyone who was not secured.

Mr McNamara said that since the park near Tenby in Pembrokeshire, opened in 1986 until the time of Hayley's death, there had been millions of visitors.

"We have cared so much for what we have done for so many years, we have cared for six million visitors," he added.

Hydro water ride
Hayley was dressed in a yellow plastic poncho as she boarded

"Duty of safety is for everyone at Oakwood and everyone at Oakwood knows it."

Mr McNamara said outside bodies had a very positive opinion of the company's training regime.

"I'm perfectly happy with the training that's run by my training department," he added

The court had heard on Wednesday how aspects of restraints on the hydro ride at were "unacceptable".

Mechanical engineer Roger Jones manually tested all 24 bars and belts and thought they were operating as they should. But, he revealed, he was able to get out of Hayley's seat unaided even after pulling the security lap bar down into place.

"I sat in the seat, pulled the bar towards me and I found that I could get out," he told the inquest. "You are actually able to get out of it."

Mr Jones did acknowledge that if both retraints being used, a passenger would be secure.

Former ride assistant Rebecca Chittleburgh, 21, admitted that failed to do physical checks on the restraints and that the ride started before she gave a "go" signal.

I'm perfectly happy with the training that's run by my training department
Oakwood MD Paddy McNamara

Gareth Etches, 24, ride supervisor on the day, said it was his first day on the Hydro and he got 20 minutes training for that ride.

He agreed the ride operating manual said physical checks should be made to ensure both restraints were secure, but Mr Etches claimed "we were just told to ensure the belts were done up and the bars were down".

But Oakwood human resources manager Mark Williams said Mr Etches would have undergone four days training, some of it classroom-based.

Mr Williams denied that the training Mr Etches received was "below standard".

'Confident and efficient'

Senior supervisor Peter Owen trained Mr Etches at the hydro ride.

He told the inquest that regarding the safety restraints "the point is emphasised time and again, it's a physical check".

He said he was "absolutely" certain Mr Etches was told.

However, he conceded even though Mr Etches had signed to say he had read and understood the operating manual, that was not the case.

Mr Owen said sections of the manual were read to trainee supervisors verbatim and then they were asked to sign.

The final piece of evidence came in the form of a statement from duty operations manager Gareth Scotcher, who drew up rotas and carried out selection duties.

Concerning Gareth Etches, he said: "The only feedback I ever received about him was positive. He was perceived to be confident and efficient and performing well as a supervisor".

Of Ms Chittleburgh, he said: "I always found her to be trustworthy and hard working". He said he never had any reason to question her performance.

The inquest continues on Friday.


BBC NEWS:VIDEO AND AUDIO
"At one point Mr McNamara appeared emotional"



SEE ALSO:
Inquest on theme park ride death
16 May 06 |  South West Wales
Oakwood inquest delay frustration
22 Sep 05 |  South West Wales


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