Sentence for Chester trampoline park bosses ‘less’ than many think ‘is deserved’, judge says

  • Granada Reports journalist Rob Smith reports from Chester Crown Court where two of the park's bosses were fined £6,000 each and given community service orders.

Many will think the sentence given to former directors of a trampoline park where scores of visitors were "injured on a daily basis" will be "less than deserved", a judge has said.

At least 270 accidents - including 11 people who sustained fractured spines - were recorded at Flip Out Chester in just seven-weeks between December 2016 and February 2017.

The park, run by David Elliot Shuttleworth, 34, and Matthew Melling, 33, had a “cavalier” approach to safety, despite multiple people being injured on a daily basis, the court heard.

It even became so bad a delegation of senior doctors from a nearby hospital visited to raise concerns.

A number of young people suffered significant injuries after using a piece of equipment known as the Tower Jump at the Chester Gates Business Park venue near Ellesmere Port.

It is believed the Tower Jump - where people jumped from the 13ft into into a foam-filled pit - was the largest of its kind in the world at that time.

Following an investigation, after medics alerted the council, former directors Shuttleworth and Melling admitted health and safety offences.

They were fined and ordered to do community service at Chester Crown Court.

Chester Flip Out, pictured in 2017

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.

Shuttleworth and Melling were given community sentences after 11 people broke their backs and hundreds more injured at Flip Out Chester.

Earlier, the court heard both men had run a franchise business, Flip Out Stoke and on 10 December 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 which presented a “risk of harm” to anyone using it, the court heard.

Between the day of opening until 3 February 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 6 January, a staff member broke her back, bursting a vertebrae, jumping from the tower. The next day there were 11 accidents, six on 13 January and six on 18 January.

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

On a single day, 1 February 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 3 February 2017.

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

Photo issued by Cheshire West and Chester Council of a general view inside Flip Out Chester. Credit: PA Images

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.

Shuttleworth resigned as director of the business in July 2018 while Melling quit in January 2020, Companies House records show.

Following the investigation by Cheshire West and Chester Council's public protection team both pleaded guilty to health and safety offences.

Shuttleworth, of Barlaston, Staffordshire, and Melling, of Spinningfields, Manchester, each admitted an offence of failing to prevent exposure to risk when they appeared in the dock at Chester Crown Court on 9 October.

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.”

ITV Granada Reports has approached the parent company Flip Out, which has a number of franchise operations across the country, including at least seven in the North West, for a comment.

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