Risk known well before Arena shut

STEPHEN PULLINGER A health and safety report commissioned by a leading Norfolk nightspot flagged up a serious asbestos risk more than a year before the building was closed to the public.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

A health and safety report commissioned by a leading Norfolk nightspot flagged up a serious asbestos risk more than a year before the building was closed to the public.

During that time, thousands of visitors to Yarmouth's Atlantis Arena, including nightclubbers, theatregoers and staff, may have been exposed to the cancer-causing fibres, the town's magistrates heard yesterday.

Although the October 2004 report by a specialist firm had highlighted certain public areas where the poor state of the asbestos demanded urgent action, "precious little was done" until a routine visit by a borough council inspector in November last year, the bench was told.

What the inspector discovered in terms of peeling asbestos - sprayed on beams and ceilings as a fire retardant - made him fear for his personal safety and caused him to order the Arena's immediate closure.

Directors Rodney Scott, 66, and Colin Abbott, 43, appearing on behalf of their company Towering Leisure, yesterday admitted two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 of failing to sufficiently protect the safety of staff and

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visitors.

They also admitted three breaches of asbestos at work regulations, in respect of failing to maintain or remove asbestos, failing to protect employees from exposure to it and failing to prevent or reduce its spread.

Magistrates adjourned the case for sentence until tomorrow and will decide whether to deal with it themselves or send it to the crown court.

Maximum fines in the magistrates' court would total £55,000, but in the crown court there would be no limit to the financial penalty.

Nicola Swan, prosecuting for the council, said the inspector's findings gave grounds for "significant concern" because there were a number of places where the sprayed asbestos was dam-aged or not covered by paint.

Areas of the seafront building affected included the dance floor, the stage area and its changing rooms.

Ms Swan said the directors closed the nightspot but the council later also imposed a prohibition notice because of the danger of contamination.

Robert Barley, mitigating, said both directors were "businessmen of high standing and never in trouble before for health and safety matters".

He said the bench should consider the findings of tests commissioned by the company, which had not shown high levels of asbestos fibres in the air.

Mr Barley said the directors accepted there had been a communications breakdown concerning their failure to act on the 2004 health and safety report, but that had been compounded by personal problems - Mr Abbott had been going through a marital break-up to Mr Scott's daughter.

He said remedial work at the Arena had cost £300,000 and the company's profits had plummeted to the stage where the firm's bank was considering appointing an administrator to run it.