THE owners of a Cheshire motor racing circuit have been ordered to pay more than £400,000 for safety failings surrounding a crash which killed a motorcycle rider and left two others with life-changing injuries.

Chester Crown Court heard on Monday, October 3 that Motorsport Vision Ltd, which owns the Oulton Park race track in Little Budworth, Tarporley, failed to suitably, and sufficiently, assess the risks from motorsport arising from the operation of its circuit.

The incident happened during a track day at Oulton Park on October 5, 2013, when 52-year-old rider Michael Carson was one of five riders involved in a crash.

Michael Carson sadly died following the trackday incident at Oulton Park in 2013.

Michael Carson sadly died following the trackday incident at Oulton Park in 2013.

Sadly he died, while two other riders were seriously injured.

In a prosecution brought by Cheshire West and Chester Council, MSV pleaded guilty to a single count of acting contrary to Regulation 3(1)(b) of the management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, by accepting that its assessment of risk arising from track activities were not suitable and sufficient.

MSV pleaded guilty and were fined a total of £158,000, together with being ordered to pay prosecution costs in the sum of £250,000.

During the track day Mr Carson, from Crook in County Durham, was killed and four others were hurt, two of those sustaining life-changing injuries, following an accident at Hill Top, a blind-brow hill.

The prosecution said that the defendant company had failed to suitably, and sufficiently, assess the risks to riders at Hill Top following the decision by them to remove a marshal at that location. The prosecution made no criticism of the management of risk at other parts of the circuit or for other types of activities at Oulton Park.

During the investigations into the October incident, a previous and strikingly similar incident in May 2013 also came to light. CCTV footage showed that, Stephen Horton’s motorcycle was struck from behind causing him to fall from his machine in the rundown from Hill Top. As was the case with Mr Carson he was also exposed to the risk of serious injury as were those riders who followed.

Michael Carson, pictured here riding at a different circuit, sadly died following the trackday incident at Oulton Park in 2013.

Michael Carson, pictured here riding at a different circuit, sadly died following the trackday incident at Oulton Park in 2013.

Fortunately, on this occasion Mr Horton was not struck by any following machine, but it should have alerted those in control of the circuit to the risks created by a lack of marshal at that location.

The prosecution case was, had there been a suitable and sufficient assessment of risk it would have led to the reinstatement of the marshal and/or the provision of a red light to have warned the riders of the risks that lay ahead.

The prosecutor said had a marshal been stationed at that post, they could have instantly responded to a downed rider by waving a warning yellow flag to alert following riders.

CCTV cameras were in place, and a system of safety lights, but neither of these systems were adequate when operated together to properly manage the risks at Hill Top. The CCTV system had a blind spot in that location such that the control tower was unable to see a downed rider and the lighting system was too far away from the Hill Top location, meaning that riders may have already passed it by the time it was eventually illuminated.

On October 5, Mr Carson fell from his machine at Hill Top following a touch incident with another rider. He came to rest close to the centre of the track out of sight (due to the blind spot) of those controlling the lighting system.

He was struck by a number of riders who had not been adequately or at all warned about his presence on the ground. It could not be determined if he had been killed as a result of the initial fall or as a consequence of being struck by those that followed.

The prosecution recognised that bike riding around a circuit like Oulton Park in groups and at speed is an inherently risky activity. However, the prosecution stressed to the court that the case wasn’t about those inherent risks but rather about those risks that were foreseeable and able to be controlled, reduced or eliminated by those who run the circuit.

It was the prosecution’s case that a suitable risk assessment would have identified the shortcomings of the CCTV and light system at that location and remedial actions taken which would have prevented the injuries which occurred on October 5.

Councillor Karen Shore, deputy leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council and Cabinet Member, Environment, Highways and Strategic Transport, said: “This case highlights the actions our Regulatory Services team can take to ensure the highest standards of safety are observed at events across our borough. The results of those safety standards not being observed are all too clear in this tragic case, that resulted in significant injuries whilst participating in a motorsport event.

“Our thoughts are with the family of Michael Carson and the other riders that were involved in two separate accidents that should have been preventable.”

After the October incident the company took the following actions:

  • The Hill Top marshal post was manned,
  • A light panel was installed at Hill Top,
  • Two more CCTV cameras were installed at this location,
  • The Marshal boxes at Knickerbrook and Britten's – chicanes either side of the Hill Top straight – were improved to provide better vision and sight lines and individual marshals were given control over red lights course-wide.

It was the prosecution’s case that all the above measures could and should have been implemented before either incident occurred following a suitable and sufficient risk assessment at Hill Top, adding the obvious reasonable and practicable safety measure would have been simply to leave the marshal in place.