Page last updated at 19:40 GMT, Thursday, 29 April 2010 20:40 UK

Dreamspace designer 'over-ruled' evacuation

Elizabeth Anne Collings and Claire Furmedge
Elizabeth Collings and Claire Furmedge fell from the structure

The designer of a giant inflatable artwork in which two women died overruled a worker who earlier wanted to evacuate it, an inquest has heard.

Elizabeth Anne Collings, 68, and Claire Furmedge, 38, of County Durham, died when the Dreamspace artwork blew free in Chester-le-Street in July 2006.

Tony Davies, who had been working at the event, told the jury he had ushered one family out of the inflatable.

But designer Maurice Agis intervened assuring staff it was safe, he said.

Mr Davies told the inquest that Mr Agis ordered staff to put in more pegs and while that was going on the public were still being admitted.

'Lifted up'

Mick Gunnigle, was another employee who worked with Mr Davies for events company Brouhaha, helping to erect the structure.

He told the inquest jury he had left Dreamspace a few seconds before it broke free.

He said: "It started lifting and I tried to grab it. It lifted me up and then I couldn't hold it anymore."

The huge walk-in structure - half the size of a football pitch - took off in a gust of wind with up to 20 visitors inside.

The women died from injuries they sustained in the fall from the artwork as it was blown into the air.

It started lifting and I tried to grab it. It lifted me up and then I couldn't hold it anymore
Worker, Mick Gunnigle

Several other people were seriously hurt.

The artwork's designer Mr Agis has since died. Coroner Andew Tweddle read the jury a statement Mr Agis made in 2006 in which he said he felt responsible and had also tried to hold it down.

Mr Agis's son, Giles, executive director of Brouhaha, also gave evidence at the inquest.

He told the jury his company had had a limited involvement at the event in Chester-le-Street, but had been involved in promoting Dreamspace previously.

He confirmed the risk assessment used at Chester-le-Street was the same as the risk assessment submitted for an earlier event in Liverpool. Here, the artwork had been erected using ballasts. In Chester-le-Street it had been tied down with pegs.

The jury were also shown footage of the moment Dreamspace broke free.

Chester-le-Street District Council, which has since been replaced by Durham County Council and which staged the exhibition was fined £20,000 after admitting health and safety offences.

Maurice Agis, 77, of Bethnal Green, east London, originally faced two counts of manslaughter. But following a month-long trial, a jury failed to reach a verdict on the charges.

He had admitted failing to ensure the safety of the public and was fined £10,000.

The inquest hearing continues.



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