Page last updated at 14:47 GMT, Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Dreamspace artist was 'negligent'

Maurice Agis
Maurice Agis denies all charges relating to the incident in July 2006

Two women killed when an inflatable artwork flipped over in a County Durham park died as a result of the creator's negligence, a court has been told.

Maurice Agis is accused of manslaughter and a breach of the Health and Safety Act following the Dreamspace incident in Chester-le-Street in July 2006.

The 77-year-old, of Bethnal Green, east London, denies all charges.

Newcastle Crown Court was told that in 1986 another of his artworks broke free from its moorings during strong wind.

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Footage of the moment Dreamspace broke free was shown to the jury

Prosecutor Paul Sloan QC told the jury at Newcastle Crown Court that Mr Agis was guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.

He said the artist was "well aware" of the dangers that strong gusts of wind posed to Dreamspace.

The sculpture was set up on 18 July by Mr Agis and event organisers Brouhaha International, and secured by ropes attached to metal pegs hammered into the ground.

Claire Furmedge and Elizabeth Collings
Claire Furmedge and Elizabeth Collings died

On 23 July, the day of the incident, an employee of Brouhaha reported to Mr Agis that the left-hand side of the structure had lifted up while she was inside it.

Another employee later noticed that the wind was getting underneath and lifting it up several feet.

Mr Sloan said that the normal procedure in such a case was to evacuate the structure immediately, and an evacuation began.

But Mr Agis, having taken a look, said that it was all right for members of the public to re-enter.

"He did, however, instruct two Brouhaha International employees to attach some more ropes to pegs around the structure," Mr Sloan said.

"They put some extra ropes at the front, to the left of the entrance, and along the left-hand side of the structure.

"They were then interrupted by the defendant, Maurice Agis, who told them to resume duties at the entrance dealing with members of the public, so that he and his partner could enjoy a refreshment break.

"As a result, no additional ropes and pegs were attached to the rear of the structure."

The artwork was lifted into the air at about 1530 BST that afternoon.

Claire Furmedge, 38, from Chester-le-Street and 68-year-old Elizabeth Collings, from Seaham, died and 13 people were hurt.

The jury was also told that at an earlier hearing, Chester-le-Street Council and Brouhaha International admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974.

The trial continues.

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