TRIBUTES were last night paid to a high-flying student who died in a crushing incident outside a nightclub.

Friends of Durham University undergraduate Olivia Burt described her as "an all-round lovely soul" hours after she became trapped under a barrier and suffered fatal head injuries.

The Northern Echo:

Loading article content

Miss Burt, a former head girl at Bournemouth School for Girls, and an only child from Milford-on-Sea, between Bournemouth and Southampton, had only joined Durham University in October and was studying natural sciences.

Witnesses described a scene of panic as a glass and metal barrier toppled on top of the 20-year-old student as scores queued to get into Missoula in the city’s Walkergate at 11.50pm on Wednesday. 

Desperate attempts were made by doormen and minutes later by paramedics to resuscitate Miss Burt but she was pronounced dead outside the venue.

Students said there had been barging in the queue outside the venue, which had been holding its weekly Game Over event, billed as Durham's biggest student night.

It attracts more than 600 students each week and is popular with members of the university's sports societies.

Durham Constabulary and Durham County Council have launched a joint investigation to establish the circumstances surrounding Miss Burt's death.

It is understood Miss Burt had been on an evening out with the Durham University Sailing Club. 

Professor David Held, master of University College, Durham, said: "The staff and students of University College, Durham acutely feel the loss of Olivia Burt.

"She came to Durham with glowing references from her school where she was regarded in the highest possible terms.

"She had an outstanding academic record and was an exceptional sportswoman. She was part of the British Sailing team in the European Championships.

"Olivia sailed for more than a decade, quickly finding her place in the university team. She became very active both in college life and the wider university.

"Those students close to her have lost a wonderful friend, whom in their shock they grieve for, alongside her family and friends.

"The college has lost a bright and outstandingly able student. It is hard to come to terms with her loss, and we will miss her greatly."

Chris Atherton, senior high performance manager at the Royal Yachting Association, said: "The RYA is deeply saddened to learn of this tragic incident.

"As a popular and committed Junior Optimist squad sailor, Olivia Burt exhibited all the drive, determination and good sportsmanship required to progress as a successful Laser competitor.

"Olivia's passion for sailing always shone through and all those who knew her in the sailing community will miss her tremendously; she was both a likeable and fair competitor.

"Our thoughts and sympathies are with the family and friends of Olivia at this sad time."

Tributes came in on social media for Miss Burt. "Such a tragic thing to have happened to someone with so much potential especially as she was such an important and loved member of the Bournemouth School for Girls community", wrote Latifah.

One witness told The Northern Echo how people in the queue had pushed the barrier, causing it to fall on top of Miss Burt, before students then fell on top of the barrier.

He said: "There was a fair bit of panic. One of the security men at the nightclub ran towards her and took his shirt off to stem the bleeding from her head.

“She had lost consciousness and he started to give CPR and was helped by other doormen until the ambulance arrived."

A witness, named only as Rosie, added: "The barrier toppled over along with all the people and I along with others got pushed over."

Another student, named only as Jack, said he had queued for an hour before deciding to leave at about 11.15pm.

He said: "We’d made it to the front but they refused to let any more people in until 12. People were trying to reason with them, telling the bouncers it wasn’t safe and someone was going to get hurt.

"In the end they put a barrier in front of the people at the front, who had been slowly moving forward due to being pushed from behind. Obviously, the pushing continued regardless."

Another student, called Emily, who was in the club at the time, told how those inside where evacuated following the incident.

She said: "The lights came on in the club at around midnight and we were all told to get outside. We were all pushed out the front entrance as the back, where the accident occurred, had been barred by the bouncers.

"I waited for some friends for about half an hour and the scene was just awful. The back of the club was being protected by the bouncers so people were sitting on the steps at the side in small and large groups, all coming to terms with things they had seen.

"Many people were sobbing, guys and girls, and everyone was hugging each other and making sure their friends were okay.

"The friends of the victim were making their way to the scene, one girl running to Missoula in hysterics and just screaming 'no'. I've never seen tragedy like that before."

Durham Constabulary, which spent yesterday examining the scene, has launched an investigation to establish the circumstances leading up to the tragedy.

A spokesman said: “The area remains cordoned off and police staff are liaising with university staff and students.”

A post-mortem examination has been carried out.

Safety and security consultant Tony O'Brien said: "Crowd safety doesn’t begin inside your club. Your queue is a critical crowd safety point and needs to be designed, staffed and managed like any other part of the venue."

Phoenix Security which provides security for the venue declined to comment on the incident.

Missoula, formerly known as the Slug and Lettuce pub, opened in September 2016 following a £385,000 investment.

A spokesman for Missoula said: "A full investigation has been launched, working with the police and the company who provide our door staff, to fully understand what led to this terrible accident.

"Until that is concluded we are unable to comment further. Our thoughts are with the young lady’s family and friends.”