UK

Trampoline park directors fined over 11 instances of broken backs

A total of 270 customers were injured within two months of the attraction opening.

Matthew Melling and David Elliot Shuttleworth were the directors of Flip Out Chester
Matthew Melling and David Elliot Shuttleworth were the directors of Flip Out Chester Matthew Melling and David Elliot Shuttleworth were the directors of Flip Out Chester

The owners of a trampoline park where 11 people broke their backs and hundreds more left injured have been fined and ordered to do community service.

David Elliot Shuttleworth, 34, and Matthew Melling, 33, were the directors of Flip Out Chester, where a customer was injured a day after it opened and 270 were hurt before it was closed down two months later.

Some suffered “life-changing” spinal injuries to their backs and number of people taken to A&E at the local hospital led to a delegation of medics visiting the site to see what was going on, Chester Crown Court heard.

David Elliot Shuttleworth, 34, leaving Chester Crown Court where he was fined £6,500 and ordered to complete 250 hours’ unpaid community service
Flip Out Chester court case David Elliot Shuttleworth, 34, leaving Chester Crown Court where he was fined £6,500 and ordered to complete 250 hours’ unpaid community service (Peter Byrne/PA)

Customers, many just children, were injured at the trampoline park after using the Tower Jump, where people landed into a foam pit.

There was a “cavalier” approach to safety, the court heard, despite multiple people being injured on a daily basis.

The worst injured suffered damaged vertebrae, some resulting in life-long health problems while many others suffered ‘knee to face’ injuries causing dental and facial injuries.

Shuttleworth, of Stoke-on-Trent, and Melling, of Spinningfields, Manchester, both pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to a single count of negligence under health and safety law between December 2016 and February 2017.

Matthew Melling, 33, who was also fined, leaves Chester Crown Court
Flip Out Chester court case Matthew Melling, 33, who was also fined, leaves Chester Crown Court (Peter Byrne/PA)

Judge Michael Leeming said he was passing sentence on the basis the two defendants were negligent rather than committing deliberate acts or cost cutting at the expense of safety and he was constrained by the sentencing guidelines and the law.

He said: “There’s no evidence the company took any steps at all, including reasonably practical ones to reduce or eliminate those risks. Common sense says investigating why an accident has happened reduces the risk of further accidents.

“The sentence will be less than many people hoped for and many people think you deserve.”

Shuttleworth was fined £6,500 and Melling £6,300, with each ordered to complete 250 hours of unpaid community service.

Also, Shuttleworth was ordered to pay £50,000 costs and Melling £10,000 costs, to go towards the £250,000 prosecution costs and council investigation.

Earlier, the court heard both men had run a franchise business, Flip Out Stoke and on December 10 2016 opened Flip Out Chester, a “wildly successful” operation, which had 200,000 customers in the two months it was open.

But just a day after opening one person was injured using the Tower Jump, a feature of the park where customers could jump from a height of up to 5.3m (17 feet three inches) into a foam pit below, which presented a “risk of harm” to anyone using it, the court heard.

Between the day of opening until February 3 2017, 270 members of the public suffered injuries using the Tower Jump, 11 suffering spinal injuries, four requiring surgery, with 123 injured by face to knee contact along with various other injuries including broken ribs and sprained wrists.

On January 6, a staff member broke her back, bursting a vertebrae, jumping from the tower. The next day there were 11 accidents, six on January 13 and six on January 18.

Despite the injuries on a daily basis the business continued to operate, the court heard.

On a single day, February 1 2017, three people suffered back injuries, all being taken to the Countess of Chester Hospital in the city.

Staff there were already monitoring A&E admissions from Flip Out and decided they had to act. Medics sent a letter to the trampoline park and a delegation of senior doctors visited two days later.

The local council was also alerted and an investigation launched with the Tower Jump closed on February 3 2017.

Judge Leeming said Shuttleworth had the “unfortunate” attitude which suggested minor injuries “go with the territory” at a trampoline park.

A general view inside Flip Out Chester (Cheshire West and Chester Council)
A general view inside Flip Out Chester A general view inside Flip Out Chester (Cheshire West and Chester Council) (Cheshire West and Chester Council/PA)

Both former directors, now both earning around £80,000 each working as business consultants, had been “chastened” by the investigation and prosecution, the court heard.

The defendants’ company, Shuttleworth and Melling Ltd, went into liquidation in 2021. A number of personal injury claims are being pursued or have already been settled.

Councillor Christine Warner of Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “The statistics in this case are truly shocking.

“These directors were both aware that members of the public were being injured but their approach to investigating why that was happening, and therefore ensuring public safety, was negligent.

“The council is the regulator of facilities like Flip Out and has a responsibility to protect the public.

“The conviction and sentence of these two individuals sends a message to all those running popular recreation facilities of any sort.”