Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Families' Call to Coroner; Did Council Think of PR Image First?

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Families' Call to Coroner; Did Council Think of PR Image First?

Article excerpt

Byline: Neil McKay

THE families of two women killed in the Dreamspace tragedy yesterday renewed their call for a coroner to examine a local council's role into their deaths on the eve of the third anniversary. Relatives of Claire Furmedge, 38, a mother-of-two from Chester-le-Street, and grandmother Elizabeth Collings, 68, from Seaham, both County Durham, have accused the now defunct Chester-le-Street District Council of using the tragedy on July 23, 2006, as "a perverse public relations opportunity".

Yesterday at the town's magistrates court a behind-closed doors preliminary hearing took place before a full inquest into the deaths of Mrs Furmedge and Mrs Collings.

They were killed when the Dreamspace giant inflatable artwork, showing in Chester-le-Street's Riverside Park, broke free from its moorings with them, and dozens of others, inside.

The council, now part of Durham County Council, was fined pounds 20,000 for their failings. The council admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act before the fine was issued.

But on their website they blamed district-wide safety advisers and Dreamspace creator Maurice Agis.

Yesterdays' preliminary hearing, attended by relatives of both women, was to "set out the parameters" for the inquest, which may not be held until early next year. It was opened and adjourned by North Durham coroner Andrew Tweddle on July 28, 2006, five days after the tragedy.

A statement released by Sally Moore, the solicitor acting for the families of both women, said: "We now find ourselves having to rely on an inquest to expose the appalling reluctance of Chester-le-Street Council (now incorporated into Durham County Council) to take full and proper responsibility for the part that they played in the Dreamspace tragedy. "The Council chose to plead guilty to the Health and Safety offences they were charged with. …

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