13 Aug, 2009

Dreamspace artist wins reduced fine

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Appeal judges cut penalty imposed on ailing Maurice Agis to £2,500 over inflatable artwork that caused two deaths

The creator of an inflatable artwork that blew away, killing two women, won an appeal today against the £10,000 fine imposed on him for breaching health and safety regulations.

Artist Maurice Agis, 77, who was convicted at Newcastle crown court of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act by failing to ensure the safety of members of the public, had the penalty reduced to £2,500 by three judges at the court of appeal in London.

Agis, from Bethnal Green, east London, stood trial for the manslaughter by gross negligence of Elizabeth Collings and Claire Furmedge, who fell out of his Dreamspace sculpture in Chester-le-Street, County Durham. A jury was unable to reach verdicts on those charges.

Furmedge, 38, from Chester-le-Street, and Collings, 68, from Seaham, who was known to friends as Anne, died when they fell from the walk-around artwork as it went tumbling across Riverside Park after breaking free from its moorings in July 2006.

Reducing the fine to £2,500, Lord Justice Goldring, sitting with Mr Justice Griffith Williams and Mr Justice King, said: “We, of course, are very conscious that it bears no reflection of what happened and cannot even begin to reflect the suffering to which the [trial] judge referred.

“However, these are very unusual circumstances and we are dealing with a very elderly appellant who is very ill.”

On the day of the incident, the ropes tethering the sculpture were no longer able to hold it and it broke free, flipping over and crashing into a CCTV pole, where it deflated. Another 27 visitors were injured, among them Rosie Wright, then aged three, whose life was saved by a passing anaesthetist and an air ambulance crew who flew her to hospital.

The crown court heard that Agis relied on grants to fund his artwork and his sole income was a £125-a-week state pension. Passing sentence in March, Mrs Justice Cox said the fine “must be one within his ability to pay”. She ordered Agis to pay £80 a month, meaning it would take him 10 years and five months to repay the fine in full, with the threat of six months’ imprisonment if he defaulted on repayment.

Today Goldring ordered the new fine to be paid off in four months, with 45 days’ imprisonment in default. The appeal judges heard that Agis, whose partner is Spanish, has been in hospital in Spain since the end of July.

The court concluded that it was “highly unlikely that he will ever be able to work again” and his only income was his state pension and some money remaining from savings of £4,500.

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