Page last updated at 17:19 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

Artist in sculpture tragedy fined


The moment the Dreamspace took off was filmed by a member of the public

The creator of an inflatable artwork which blew away in a County Durham park killing two women has been fined £10,000 for health and safety breaches.

Maurice Agis, 77, from London, was convicted at Newcastle Crown Court of breaches relating to the 1974 Act.

Two women, Elizabeth Collings and Claire Furmedge, fell from his Dreamspace sculpture in July 2006.

After the hearing, relatives of the two dead women said they were shocked at the level of neglect by all concerned.

Agis had been charged with manslaughter, but the jury was discharged after failing to reach a verdict.

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

Brouhaha International, which organised the tour of Dreamspace, was fined £4,000 and Chester-Le-Street District council, which helped organise the event, was fined £20,000.

Agis was ordered to pay off the fine at £80 a month or face six months in prison.

Ms Furmedge, 38, from Chester-le-Street, and Ms Collings, 68, from Seaham, died and 13 others were injured when the artwork broke free from its moorings at Riverside Park in Chester-le-Street.

It then flipped over before crashing into a CCTV pole where it deflated.

The life of one victim, three-year-old Rosie Wright, was saved by passing anaesthetist Peter Evans.

Passing sentence, Mrs Justice Cox said that no fine she imposed could compensate the families and those injured for their loss or distress.

But she added she had to take into account Agis's income - just his £125-a-week state pension - when imposing the fine.

The judge told Agis, who kept his head bowed throughout the sentencing hearing, that he had failed to properly design an anchorage system that would have prevented the tragedy happening.

The families say they they have been cheated of justice.

She told him: "In my view you were more concerned with the visual impact and the public's interaction than the practicalities of holding it down."

Sally Moore, of Leigh Day & Co, read a statement from the relatives of the dead women, which said: "Anne and Claire were killed in the most appalling circumstances.

"Their deaths were caused by a catalogue of failure, complacency and incompetence on the part of Maurice Agis, Chester le Street District Council and Brouhaha International.

"The two families are relieved that this process is over, but extremely disappointed and angry that the artist was not convicted of gross negligence manslaughter charges.

"They feel that the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not retry the case means that the criminal justice system has let them down."

'Truly sorry'

In a statement released after the hearing, Agis of Kirton Gardens, Bethnal Green, said: "The memories of that day fill me with a profound sadness.

"I continue to be consumed by the tragedy of those events, the suffering of those affected and the grief and pain that they must continue to feel.

"Never, for one moment, have I ever thought that Dreamspace posed a risk to life.

"I am truly sorry that my Dreamspace Artwork, designed to bring joy, pleasure and happiness into people's lives, could also be the source of such pain."

He also pledged that the artwork would never be displayed again.

Chester-le-Street Council, which admitted health and safety breaches, said it accepted the court's decision and offered its condolences to the families of those who had died.

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