Ava-May Littleboy: Owner of inflatable which killed toddler had 'complained to manufacturer'

Russell Hookey at Chelmsford Magistrates Court on ITV News Anglia

The owner of a beach inflatable which exploded and killed a toddler had raised concerns it was not fit for purpose but continued to use it commercially, a court has heard.

Ava-May Littleboy suffered fatal head injuries after being thrown into the air as she played on the inflatable trampoline on Gorleston beach during a family holiday to Norfolk in July 2018.

Curt Johnson, operations manager at Johnson's Funfair Ltd, appeared at Chelmsford Magistrates Court on Thursday for the start of a sentencing hearing, after he and his company pleaded guilty to two counts of breaching health and safety laws in July.

The prosecution, detailing its case, claimed that Johnson had engaged in cost-cutting and driving down prices when buying inflatables from a Chinese company - at one point comparing it to a child's overinflated balloon.

Flowers and toys left at the scene where Ava-May Littleboy died on Gorleston beach in 2018. Credit: ITV Anglia

Pascal Bates, prosecuting, said: "Culpability was a high level, a reckless level, where there was foresight of offending. It can't be said that the explosion of the unit wasn't a recognised risk."

The court heard that the inflatables were made to a budget and could not have passed British safety standard tests, and that Johnson was focused more on price than safety.

"Every 10-year-old who's ever got over-enthusiastic with a party balloon knows you can put too much air in it and it goes pop," said Mr Bates.

"This was a sealed unit with no safety valve and no gauge to determine the pressure it was inflated to."

Ava-May was just three years old when she died Credit: Abbie Littleboy

Ava-May was just three years old when she died in the incident on Gorleston beach.

In an impact statement her father, Nathan Rowe said: "I feel inadequate as a parent. I took my child on holiday and she was killed. Knowing she'd never walk through the door again into our house was just soul-destroying."

Ava-May's mother Chloe Littleboy added: "Every day after losing Ava was a blur. How do you start to plan the funeral of your three year old daughter?."

An inflatable trampoline exploded on Gorleston beach in July 2018, killing three year-old Ava May Littleboy Credit: Press Association

Johnson admitted that he had not obtained operating and safety instructions for the inflatables, and had not prepared a specific risk assessment for the trampoline.

An inquest in March 2020 found the funfair ride had been inspected by an independent company just four days before the accident - and was found to be unsafe to use.

But because the trampoline was not registered with an official testing scheme, no record was made of those concerns - and no action taken to stop it being used.

The sentencing hearing continues on Friday.

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