Page last updated at 17:40 GMT, Wednesday, 5 May 2010 18:40 UK

Inquest jury rules Dreamspace deaths were accidental

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

The deaths of two County Durham women killed when an inflatable artwork blew away were accidental, an inquest jury has ruled.

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

North Durham coroner Andrew Tweddle told the jury that the only verdict possible was one of accidental death.

The families of the two women said they were satisfied with the outcome.

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

Ms Furmedge, from Chester-le-Street, and Ms Collings, from Seaham, died from injuries suffered when they fell from the artwork. Several others were badly hurt.

The inquest heard there were no detailed discussions about how the structure would be fixed to the ground.

We are relieved that nearly four years since the deaths of our loved ones, the inquest process has provided us with the answers we awaited
Family statement

In evidence, Health and Safety Executive engineer Anthony Hoyland said the structure needed 108 anchor pegs. After the tragedy, police recovered just 22.

The artwork's designer Maurice Agis has since died.

'Clear failures'

Mr 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.

Mrs Collings' daughter Susan Campbell told the inquest in Chester-le-Street that she saw Dreamspace break free with her mother inside and ran to the scene.

Mrs Campbell said her mother and her teenage son had decided to go into Dreamspace after seeing it at Riverside Park.

Mr Tweddle ordered council officials and Brouhaha International, the Liverpool-based firm run by the artist's son, Giles, which organised the structure's tour around Britain, to demonstrate by the end of the month that they had both learned lessons from the tragedy.

After the hearing, the families of the two dead women issued a statement that said: "We are relieved that nearly four years since the deaths of our loved ones, the inquest process has provided us with the answers we awaited.

A gust of wind sent the structure into the air with people inside

"The inquest has demonstrated clear failures on the part of Maurice Agis, Chester-le-Street District Council and Brouhaha International.

"We would like to thank all those who have supported us during the last four years and in particular those people who assisted our loved ones on the day of the tragedy."

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

After the verdict Terry Collins, director of neighbourhood services at Durham County Council, said: "As it is vitally important that such incidents are prevented in future, the council has carried out a thorough review of its arrangements for events run on council-owned land, ensuring a consistent approach to managing event safety across the county.

"We will continue to fully co-operate with the coroner and maintain our procedures in line with recognised best practice."

Mr Agis 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.



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