Alton Towers crash victim Vicky Balch criticises rollercoaster reopening

Vicky Balch said reopening the Smiler ride this weekend is 'inapproprate'. Credit: ITV News

By Ben Chapman: ITV News Midlands Reporter

A woman who lost a leg in the Alton Towers rollercoaster crash says the decision to reopen it to the public this weekend is “inappropriate and insensitive”.

Vicky Balch, 20, was one of two women to have leg amputations following the crash on the Smiler ride in June last year. Three other people were also seriously injured.

Smiler has been closed to the public since the crash, but will reopen to visitors tomorrow, less than five weeks before its owners, Merlin Entertainments, appears in court charged with health and safety breaches.

Vicky told ITV News: “I’ve never wanted it to reopen. I understand it’s a business and it’s what they have to do. I just didn’t think it’d be so soon. If it was a worse day, we could’ve died, worse-case scenario.

“But at the end of the day it feels like the money comes before the people on the ride.”

Last year Alton Towers said its internal investigation into the crash found it was the result of human error, after safety systems on the ride had been overridden manually. It says it has made technical improvements and changes to training.

It says the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which will bring a prosecution next month, has been informed of the decision to reopen the ride.

But Vicky says the timing is inappropriate.

“We’ve not heard the court findings, so they’ve not heard them either, so how do they know what the HSE have found? I just don’t think they should’ve opened it before they even heard the findings.

“It’s not even been a year, it’s only been nine months and we’re all still going through everything. It’s not got easier for any of us. It’s just hard, and then to realise it’s opening again, it brings it all back.”

Gill Riley, Marketing Director at Alton Towers, said: “We do understand how the injured and their families are feeling and we have been in conversation with the families on an ongoing basis.

“However, as we stated last year, our own investigations did show the ride itself was not at fault and the ride has been independently certified as safe to operate.”

Gill Riley, Marketing Director at Alton Towers, said the theme park empathised with the victims of the crash. Credit: ITV News

Vicky now has a hydraulic artificial leg, and is able to walk short distances unaided, but still requires physiotherapy twice a week, as well as exercises to improve her balance.

Vicky takes regular exercise to improve her strength. Credit: ITV News

She says she will find it difficult to watch people on the ride, but respects people who want to.

“I personally would never go near it again, but that’s obviously because this has happened. I went on it for a reason, I suppose because I wanted the fun aspect of it.

“If people want to go on it, it’s the same reason I wanted to in the beginning. So it’s personal choice really.”