Alton Towers operator Merlin has indicated a guilty plea to a charge of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act over the Smiler rollercoaster crash in June last year which left five people seriously injured.

Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd had previously accepted responsibility for the crash after carrying out its own internal investigation following the incident, which resulted in two women having legs amputated after their carriage collided with a stationary carriage on the same track.

The guilty plea indication came as the case was being heard at North Staffordshire Justice Centre in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

District Judge Jack McGarva warned that the company "may be ordered to pay a very large fine".

Five people were seriously injured on the ride on June 2 last year, including two women who had legs amputated after their carriage collided with a stationary carriage on the same track.

One of the injured was University of Huddersfield student Joe Pugh. He suffered serious injuries to both his legs, while his girlfriend Leah Washington had to have a leg amputated. Both Joe and Leah attended court this morning.

Leah Washington and Joe Pugh have spent a weekend together in Munich
Leah Washington and Joe Pugh have spent a weekend together in Munich

Merlin Attractions is alleged to have breached Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”

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The prosecution has been brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Sixteen people were injured in the collision on a low section of the ride, which can reach speeds of up to 50mph and has 14 loops.

Those most badly hurt were Vicky Balch and Daniel Thorpe, from Buxton in Derbyshire, Leah Washington and Joe, from Barnsley, and Chandaben Chauhan, from Wednesbury, West Midlands.

Alton Towers, Monday reopens to the public after it was closed following horror crash of the Smiler Ride. Smiler ride still closed

Miss Washington and Miss Balch each lost a leg as a result of their injuries, while Mr Pugh had both kneecaps shattered and Mr Thorpe suffered a collapsed lung.

The 500-acre theme park in Staffordshire was shut for four days following the smash while The Smiler, which is the world’s first 14-loop rollercoaster, only reopened in March this year.

In a statement issued after the HSE announced its intention to prosecute in February, Merlin said: “We have co-operated fully with the Health and Safety Executive throughout their investigation while continuing to support those who were injured in the accident.

“The company completed its own investigation and published the results in November, accepting responsibility for what happened. We have also kept the HSE fully informed of the subsequent actions that we have taken to ensure that something like this cannot happen again.”