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MP says warnings over the site of Durham nightclub death were ignored

Labour MP Roberta Blackman-Woods alerted the council to safety concerns

  • Patrick Hinton
  • 12 February 2018
MP says warnings over the site of Durham nightclub death were ignored

Roberta Blackman-Woods, the Labour MP for the City of Durham, says the local council dismissed multiple warnings she made about the safety conditions of the city’s Walkergate complex where a student died last week.

Police are investigating the death of Olivia Burt, 20, who died after sustaining head injuries in a reported crushing incident.

Roberta Blackman-Woods says she made repeated warnings dating as far back as 2007 to the council and police that the design of the leisure complex was not suitable for large crowds and that someone could be killed.

The Walkergate complex opened in 2007, and its architecture includes steep stairs, low walls, cramped areas and sheer drops.

“It really should never have been given a licence for nightclubs and these late-night events,” says Blackman-Woods, who has held her parliamentary position since 2005.

She said she last raised concerns about safety issues in the complex two years ago, but was greeted with a dismissive response from the council.

“I’ve had quite a lot of kickback. I was told that this was an important part of Durham’s nighttime economy and I had to stop slagging it off,” she said.

Olivia Burt, a member of the British sailing team, died after a crush outside the Missoula club caused a barrier to collapse. One student attempted CPR after she was pulled out of the crush with an open head wound.

Eyewitnesses told of panic leading up to the incident, and an onlooker named as Jack told The Tab that overcrowding, pushing and painful queuing conditions were commonplace outside the venue.

Blackman-Woods says local taxi drivers had also contacted her to say they raised similar concerns with Durham county council about the safety of using temporary barriers to handle crowd congestion in the complex.

She also sad: “In the immediate term we need to get to the bottom of what happened on that night and lessons that have to be learned from that. In the longer term I want the building not to have nightclubs because it is just not an appropriate design for that.

“I just feel absolutely terrible that this has happened in Durham because we are a city that really welcomes students and I have worked on their behalf.”

The owners of Missoula say they are working with the police’s investigation into understanding that causes of what they label a “terrible accident”.

“Until that is concluded we are unable to comment further. Our thoughts are with Olivia’s family and friends,” they added.

Joanne Waller, Durham county council’s head of environment, health and consumer protection, said in a statement to the Northern Echo: “First and foremost, our thoughts are with the family and friends of Olivia Burt following her tragic death on Wednesday night.

“Since the incident, we have been working closely with police and have now begun a health and safety investigation. We are unable to say any more at this stage.”

A tribute from Professor David Held of Durham University described Burt as “bright and outstandingly able”, detailing that “she arrived last autumn to begin reading natural science with glowing references from her school where she was regarded in the highest possible terms.”

“She had an outstanding academic record and was an exceptional sportswoman. Those students close to her have lost a wonderful friend, whom in their shock they grieve for, alongside her family and friends. The college has lost a bright and outstandingly able student. It is hard to come to terms with her loss, and we will miss her greatly.”

He added: “She had an outstanding academic record and was an exceptional sportswoman. Those students close to her have lost a wonderful friend, whom in their shock they grieve for, alongside her family and friends. The college has lost a bright and outstandingly able student. It is hard to come to terms with her loss, and we will miss her greatly.”

[Via: Guardian]

Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Staff Writer, follow him on Twitter

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