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Archive - Monday, 17 July 2000
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Dad launches campaign after ski slope accidents
THE father of a boy injured at Wycombe Summit dry ski slope has launched a campaign to get answers following the number of accidents at the centre.
Mark Thomas' 11-year-old son Ben broke his leg after colliding with a crash barrier on the slope on November 8, 1998 - just four weeks before 13-year-old Antonio Dispenza was killed at the centre.
Now Mr Thomas has written to his MP, Sir Ray Whitney, HSE Director General Jenny Bacon, BBC's Watchdog, Aylesbury Crown Court and local newspapers with his concerns, despite safety measures having been improved since the death of Maidenhead teenager Antonio.
He wants to HSE to answer why they did not act earlier, why he was not asked to give evidence against Wycombe Summit in court and details on the HSE's progress in investigating the slope's design. Antonio died after fracturing his skull when he struck a barrier at the centre in Abbey Barn Lane, High Wycombe, on December 5, 1998. His parents are to sue the ski centre for compensation.
Last week the Health and Safety Executive successfully prosecuted Wycombe Summit Ltd, the ski slope operator, for breaches of health and safety regulations.
The company pleaded guilty at Aylesbury Crown Court on July 5 to three offences, two under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and one under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992. The ski slope was fined £13,500 with costs of £10,000 awarded to the HSE.
The prosecution followed two other accidents involving a barrier at the base of the intermediate slope at the Wycombe Summit dry ski slope. Ben Thomas broke his leg after hitting a crash barrier on the slope on November 8, 1998. James McGee, then 11, of Holtspur also broke his leg in a similar accident on March 10, the same year.
Mr Thomas, of Marlow Bottom Road, Marlow, said he was appalled by the £13,500 fine given to the centre.
'With my son's accident, everything is the same in terms of the circumstances and Antonio Dispenza's death,' he said.
Mr Thomas said: 'I have no objection to people being allowed to ski and enjoy their past-time whenever they choose. But to an unsupervised novice, skiing is a dangerous sport.
'Allowing anyone untrained or unsupervised to get on a 43 degree ski slope, as we all know, is lethal.'
Mr Thomas said managing director of the ski centre, Andrew Lockerbie, should resign. He said: 'When I attended the inquest it was clear the centre had done nothing between my son's death and Antonio Dispenza's death to improve safety.
'It's a disgusting insult that the fines have been awarded at the levels they have.'
He added: 'The boy is dead and the centre gets away with a small fine. Mr Lockerbie should resign.'
Mother-of-three Lynda Morris, whose eldest son Kyle, 14, broke his arm in a ski accident on a visit to the ski centre, said she was saddened after reading about the hearing into Antonio's death.
Mrs Morris, of Avery Avenue, Downley, High Wycombe, said she was worried Kyle could have died in the accident on April 1 this year.
'The boy who died - it could have been my son as it was also his first time on the slope. He was 14, my son was 13 - it could have been Kyle,' she said.
However Mrs Morris said she was happy with the staff supervision and safety measures in operation at Wycombe Summit at the time of her son's accident and said she was satisfied with the safety checks Kyle had undergone prior to his fall.
Following last week's court case HSE inspector Mike Gibb said: 'When we visited the site prior to Antonio Dispenza's death we were given assurances that certain procedures were in place and the site conformed to industry practice. Further investigation showed the procedures were not being followed in practice.'
He said HSE had taken action at the site since the accident and the site's operators have reviewed their procedures.
Andrew Lockerbie told the Bucks Free Press he would not be resigning. He said he was happy with current safety procedures.
He said: 'We have made a number of improvements in all areas - reception, boot room, the slope, changes to the requirements on how people check in, the questions they are asked about their ability and how they are observed on the slope.'