Business News

Alton Towers owner faces prosecution over roller coaster crash


The owner of popular U.K. theme park Alton Towers is to be prosecuted after one of the attraction's roller coasters crashed last summer, leaving five people seriously injured.

Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd is set to appear in court on April 22 on a charge under the 'Health and Safety at Work Act 1974', the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announced Thursday.

"The Smiler" rollercoaster, at Alton Towers Resort, U.K.
Christopher Furlong | Getty Images Europe | Getty Images

On June 2 2015, two carriages collided on "The Smiler" roller coaster at Alton Towers, in Staffordshire, U.K. Two women involved needed leg amputations, while a total of 16 people had some form of injury in the crash. Since the incident, "The Smiler" has remained closed to the public.

"This was a serious incident with life-changing consequences for five people," Neil Craig, head of operations for HSE in the Midlands, said in a statement.

"We have conducted a very thorough investigation and consider that there is sufficient evidence and that it is in the public interest to bring a prosecution."

"The Smiler" rollercoaster, at Alton Towers Resort, U.K.
Roller coaster crash set to cost owner, Merlin Entertainments, $73M

In response to the announcement, Merlin Entertainments said it continued to support those who were hurt in the crash.

"We have cooperated fully with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) throughout their investigation while continuing to support those who were injured in the accident," a Merlin Entertainments spokesperson said in a statement, emailed to CNBC.

"The company completed its own investigation and published the results in November, accepting responsibility for what happened. We have also kept the HSE fully informed of the subsequent actions that we have taken to ensure that something like this cannot happen again."

In late 2015, Alton Towers said human error was the cause of the crash. As a result of a fall-off in custom while the park was closed for safety checks on all the rides, Merlin has looked at several cost-cutting measures to keep the park's business running, including park restructuring, redundancies and closing the park during its "quieter periods."

‘Most difficult year in Merlin’s history’

The announcement comes on the same day as the world's second largest visitor attractions company posted its preliminary results for 2015, which saw a very slight rise in profit, despite 2015 being the "most difficult year in Merlin's history."

Merlin Entertainments, who owns LEGOLAND, London Eye and Madame Tussauds, said pre-tax profit for 2015 rose to £250 million ($348.3 million), a 0.3 percent increase from 2014.

A logo sits outside the entrance to Alton Towers theme park, in Staffordshire, UK.
Paul Ellis | AFP | Getty Images

While 2015 delivered a "strong" start for Merlin's theme parks division, like-for-like sales fell 12.4 percent, following the roller coaster crash. The group's revenue however remained steady at £1.278 billion, with visitors across all attractions seeing a slight rise to 62.9 million, for 2015.

"The business delivered a robust performance in 2015," said Merlin Entertainments' CEO, Nick Varney in a statement.

"However, 2015 was a difficult year for Merlin following the accident at Alton Towers early in the summer season. The safety of our guests and employees must always come first and we have sought to learn every possible lesson to help ensure there is no repeat of what happened on 2 June."

The operator remains "confident" for its future, with Merlin planning to create 40 new Midway attractions, and four new LEGOLAND parks by the end of 2020.

By CNBC's Alexandra Gibbs, follow her @AlexGibbsy and @CNBCi