Venue cleared of three out of four charges over ‘senseless and avoidable’ Olivia Burt death

The jury has now begun its deliberations

The venue on trial over the death of Durham University student, Olivia Burt, has been cleared on three of four charges.

Stonegate Pub Company had been charged with four health and safety offences by Durham County Council but the judge directed the jury to return not guilty verdicts for three of the charges on Tuesday.

The 20-year-old first year natural sciences student was queuing outside – the now renamed – Missoula bar on a Wednesday night in February 2018 when she fell through a protective screen. The protective screen then collapsed on her, and other customers fell on top of it.

The impact of the decorative screen, which was being used for crowd control, and of the concrete pavement on which she fell, gave Olivia an “unsurvivable” head injury.

The West-Midlands based pub company, who manage 800 bars across the UK, deny the one remaining charge of failing to ensure the safety of people not in its employment.

Teeside Crown Court heard how the screen had partially collapsed less than an hour before Olivia’s death but was put back up by staff.

The venue – which has since become a Slug and Lettuce – was particularly popular with university societies and on Wednesday night had been full of sports societies taking part in socials.

Yesterday in court, prosecutors described Olivia’s death as “senseless and avoidable”.

Jamie Hill KC, said: “[It’s] difficult to understand how it is that a 20-year-old woman could die in such a senseless and avoidable way.

“All she was doing was standing with her friends, waiting to get in to a club which had targeted the student population as a way of filling their venue.

“She deserved to be protected by a large organisation that had a lot of written policies.

“But the reality is that as soon as the venue, which had become the first choice venue for students on a Wednesday night, was confronted with more customers than they could accommodate within their own set limits, all of the planning and all the risk assessments came to nought.”

Mr Hill told the court it “was entirely foreseeable” the barrier could collapse again after it had first fallen at approximately 11:15pm.

Judge Howard Crowson outlined to the jury a path to reaching a verdict. He told them they must be sure the protective screen was in fact being used as a barrier, that it was not designed for this purpose and that this caused a real risk, a risk which arose from Stonegate’s activity.

Judge Crowson then sent the jury away to begin deliberating its verdict.

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