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Death of man who got head stuck in cinema chair found to be accidental

The Vue cinema at Birmingham's Star City Credit: ITV Central

An inquest jury has concluded that the death of a 24-year-old man who became trapped underneath an electric seat in a cinema, was accidental.

24-year-old Ateeq Rafiq suffered 'catastrophic' injuries in the incident at the Vue cinema in Birmingham's Star City complex.

The dad-of-one had gone with his wife, Ayesha Sardar, to the cinema at 4.30pm on 9 March 2018 and bought tickets from a machine for seats in Gold Class, screen 17.

The couple, from Ettington Road in Aston, picked C5 and C6 with Mr Rafiq sitting in C5.

At the end of the film he realised he could not find either his keys or his phone and suspected they may have slipped down the side of the seat.

Ms Sardar told the inquest her husband knelt down and put his head and shoulders underneath the seat. Within seconds the seat's retractable footrest automatically closed, trapping him by the neck.

A Home Office pathologist told the inquest Mr Rafiq's brain was starved of oxygen, and although paramedics managed to keep him breathing, he went into a coma and died in hospital a week later.

After today's jury conclusion of accidental death, his family left court without making any comment.

Credit: ITV Central

Luxury seating is now fitted in many cinemas - controlled by the customer. The seats are marketed as offering a 'VIP viewing experience' for a slightly higher ticket price.

The Vue Cinema at Star City had three screens fitted out with luxury seating, some of which had come from its Lowry multiplex in Manchester.

The type of seat, called Kimberley, was made by high-end Spanish furnishers Figueras, who've been in business for 80 years.

Its reclining back and extending footrest were programmed to return upright four seconds after its occupant got up from it.

The movements were controlled by motorised rods called actuators - there's no suggestion that the actuator itself in any way malfunctioned.

Credit: ITV Central

The court was given a demonstration of the seat mechanism by Daniel Surrales, a project manager at Figueras. He said the type of actuator had been changed in 2009 from one fixed directly to the footrest which just pushed it out, to one that also pulled it back in.

However, he said the new actuator was supposed to be fixed to a metal safety bar behind the footrest, so the footrest itself could still be opened by hand.

The jury heard that Mr Rafiq's seat had the 2009 modification but the actuator had been fixed directly onto the footrest frame and there was no metal safety bar, because one had not been supplied.

When the footrest closed onto him it began to crush his neck and that caused a fuse to blow in the seat's control box, which locked the footrest in place - with a force equivalent to the weight of two average men.

The three Gold Class screens at the Vue Cinema in Star City were closed immediately after the incident and are still out of action fifteen months later.

We are shocked and saddened by this tragic accident and our sincerest thoughts and condolences go to Mr Rafiq's family and friends. We have been listening carefully to all of the evidence and information and will now reflect on the findings of the inquest.

– Vue spokesperson