Operating instructions for bouncy castle which killed Summer Grant were ‘destroyed in arson attack’

PUBLISHED: 20:12 30 April 2018 | UPDATED: 20:12 30 April 2018

Seven-year-old Summer Grant, from Hellesdon, who died in 2016.
Photo: supplied by Scala

Seven-year-old Summer Grant, from Hellesdon, who died in 2016. Photo: supplied by Scala

supplied by Scala

The operating instructions for a bouncy castle that blew away, killing Summer Grant inside it, were destroyed in an arson attack on a caravan, a fairground worker told a court.

The seven-year-old Hellesdon schoolgirl died in hospital after she was rescued from the inflatable at an Easter Fair in Harlow, Essex, Chelmsford Crown Court heard.

Fairground worker William Thurston, 29, and his wife Shelby Thurston, 26, both deny manslaughter by gross negligence and a health and safety offence following the incident on March 26 2016.

Shelby Thurston, giving evidence, said her family had worked in the fairground industry for “generations” and that she started working for her father aged 16 or 17.

She said her father, Billy Searle, bought the bouncy castle, described as a circus super dome, in 2014.

She said she accompanied him to collect it and that they both had a day of training, but that the operating instructions were destroyed in a subsequent fire.

She said her parents were victims of an arson attack on their caravan at a show in Jersey in the Channel Islands in 2015.

“Someone didn’t like the fairground being on that event,” she said. “Some youths set alight a gas bottle.

“They had turned it on full then lit a rag to the gas bottle and rolled it under the caravan that my parents and sisters were staying in.

“If my mum hadn’t woken up and seen the flames who knows what would have happened?

“It was pushed under where my sister was sleeping and where a lot of the paperwork was kept.”

She said her father managed to salvage one extract, a certificate of safety which he had emailed to the Showmen’s Guild, but that “apart from that the operating instructions were destroyed in a fire”.

Thurston, who met her husband at a wedding when she was aged 17, had told police that the bouncy castle was hers but said in court that it was her father’s.

“I was operating the dome without my father’s present and after the incident that happened, when I was arrested it began to dawn on me that I may get my father into trouble,” she said.

“I was in custody for a long time, 20 hours maybe, so I told the police that he had gifted it to me so I would be the person taking immediate responsibility.

“I thought that he would get in a lot of trouble and I wanted to protect him.”

Asked why she thought her father may get in trouble, she replied: “Because he wasn’t there operating with me.”

Summer only had “few minutes” left on bouncy castle

Summer only had “a few minutes” left of her turn on a bouncy castle when it blew away with her inside it and killed her, a Shelby Thurston told the court.

Thurston, giving evidence on Monday, said she and her husband decided to take down a large slide after it began to rain, and planned to take down other inflatables afterwards.

She said there was “no real concern” for a separate “playground” containing the bouncy castle dome where Summer had been playing, and she allowed the girl to continue.

Summer’s sister Lily, who was five at the time, was also there but was not on the bouncy castle.

“They still had a few minutes of time,” Thurston said. “I said, ‘I will let them finish their go then we will take it down’.”

Asked why she decided to let them finish, she said: “At the time there was no concern for the playground.

“We hadn’t reached or got very close to our critical point for wind when wind affects the playground.

“I thought at the time I was quite within my timescale of letting them finish.”

She said she was near the bouncy castle when it took off, adding: “I screamed and I tried to grab hold of it.”

She became tearful as she described seeing her husband carry Summer from the inflatable.

“I remember just looking at her,” she said. “She wasn’t speaking but she was awake.

“She was responsive, her eyes were blinking. It’s just the horriblest thing.”

She said her husband put Summer in the recovery position, and she later returned to the fairground where she tried to comfort Summer’s grandmother and her little sister Lily.

“Lily said something that completely broke my heart,” said Thurston. “She said, ‘I think Summer’s poorly’.”

She said the bouncy castle had been anchored to the ground with 17 stakes and she and her husband had been assessing conditions, including by looking at inflatables to see if they “showed signs of the wind”.

Prosecutors say that the Thurstons, of Whitecross Road, Wilburton, near Ely, Cambridgeshire, failed to ensure that the bouncy castle was “adequately anchored” to the ground and failed to monitor weather conditions to ensure it was safe to use.

The trial continues.

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