Boss showed 'flagrant disregard' of the law over stuntman death, court told


A stunt firm director showed a "flagrant disregard" for health and safety law over the death of a human cannonball who was killed after being fired into the air at a show, a court heard.

Stuntman Matthew Cranch, 24, died after sustaining multiple injuries when a safety net intended to break his fall collapsed as he hurtled to the ground.

He had been fired from a lorry-mounted cannon in front of hundreds of spectators during Scott May's Daredevil Stunt Show at the Kent County Showground in Detling on April 25 2011.

Prosecutors said May, of Higher Bosavern, St Just, near Penzance, Cornwall, had "failed to discharge the duty" as an employer to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of employees, including Mr Cranch.

Maidstone Crown Court heard a mechanism which triggered the release of the safety net was not properly set. An inquest jury last year ruled the death was an accident.

Mark Watson, prosecuting, said the mechanism which triggered the release of the safety net was not properly set and could be unintentionally falsely closed, leading to the net dropping when the lorry recoiled upon firing of the cannon.

At a sentencing hearing, Mr Watson said: "Given the scale of the risk, it amounts to a flagrant disregard of the law."

In July, Mr Cranch's boss Scott May, 40, of Stunts UK Ltd, pleaded guilty at Maidstone Magistrates' Court to a health and safety charge. A guilty plea was also entered on behalf of Stunts UK Ltd.

Mr Watson said the quick release mechanism was only intended to be released when the stuntman had been caught in the net.

But Mr Watson went on: "In summary, there was simply no need for there to be a quick release mechanism attached to this safety net in those circumstances.

"It introduced a wholly unacceptable level of risk in relation to this stunt which was unnecessary in practice."

Mr Watson said May had not deliberately breached his duty but he had "hands on control", was responsible for safety and was present on the day of the tragedy.

Mr Watson said: "There were a number of warning signs or, at the very least, lost opportunities in the run up to the accident which should have prompted Mr May and his company to step back and reconsider the safety of the stunt."

He pointed to examples of two previous "near misses", including problems with the tension and issues where a stuntman nearly hit the ground.

Mr Watson said induction and training was "informal", and it was "telling" that one of the few documents employees were asked to sign was a disclaimer.

Mr Cranch, who was living in Newquay, Cornwall, had performed the showpiece five times before the tragedy. He had joined the stunt team around four weeks before his death.

Kent Police announced in December 2012 that no criminal prosecution would be brought over Mr Cranch's death and the matter was handed to Maidstone Borough Council, which prosecuted May.

In footage shown at the inquest, one of Mr Cranch's colleagues was heard giving a "3, 2, 1" countdown on the public address system before he shouted "fire".

Mr Cranch could then be seen being propelled from the cannon amid a cloud of pyrotechnic smoke as the safety net in front of him suddenly collapsed.

Despite efforts by medics, he died at Maidstone Hospital. Relatives had described Mr Cranch as a "free spirit" whose death they could "never accept or recover from".

In mitigation, Tanya Robinson, defending May, said: "Mr May considered himself to be compliant with health and safety legislation at the time. He believed he had done enough to protect his members of staff."

Judge Jeremy Carey adjourned sentencing to 10.15am on Tuesday.