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£5m fine for Alton Towers' operator.

The operator of fun park, Alton Towers, was fined £5m for a horrific crash on the Smiler rollercoaster which injured 16 people in June 2015, including two teenage girls who needed leg amputations.

Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd admitted breaching the Health and Safety Act in April 2015.

The theme park originally said the accident was caused by "human error" but prosecutors argued the fault was with the employer not individuals.

Sentencing, Judge Michael Chambers QC described the crash on the £18m attraction as a "catastrophic failure" and said human error was not the cause.

He said: "This was a needless and avoidable accident in which those who were injured were lucky not to be killed."

Judge Chambers said the crash was foreseeable but accepted the defendant had taken full and extensive steps to remedy the problems that led to the crash.

Paul Paxton, who represented eight of the victims, said his clients had been shocked and disappointed by the catalogue of errors. He added: "Money alone will never replace limbs, nor heal the psychological scars."

Chief executive of Merlin Entertainments, Nick Varney, said the company was determined never to repeat the devastating accident and stressed the firm was not an emotionless corporate entity.

He said: "In this context, the far greater punishment for all of us is knowing that on this occasion we let people down with devastating consequences."

The court had heard how engineers failed to notice a carriage that had stopped midway around the 14-loop ride. They assumed there was a problem with the computer and over-rode the stop mechanism setting another train in motion and into the empty carriage.

Prosecuting, Bernard Thorogood, said workers had not been given a system to follow which would safely deal with the issue. Engineers had not read or seen the ride's operating instructions.

He also pointed out that wind on the day was estimated at 45mph but the manufacturer's manual stated the ride should not be operated at wind speeds above 34mph.

Defending Merlin, Simon Antrobus, said a safety procedure had been in place, including an alarm designed to sound when wind speeds exceed 32mph - but it did not go off.

Vicky Balch, then 19, and Leah Washington, then 17, each lost a leg in the crash. Daniel Thorpe and Chandaben Chauhan were also badly injured.

The Health and Safety Executive - whose investigation concluded the accident could have been avoided - said Merlin had let its customers down.

Head of the HSE in the Midlands, Neil Craig, said: "This avoidable incident happened because Merlin failed to put in place systems that allowed their engineers to work safely on the ride while it was running. This made it all too easy for a whole series of unchecked mistakes, not just the single push of a button, to result in tragedy."

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