A PUB chain is to stand trial for up to four weeks on health and safety charges following the death of a student crushed in a barrier collapse outside a Durham bar.

But the trial of the Stonegate Pub Company, said to be the UK’s largest pub chain, may not take place until later next year, with the venue likely to be at Teesside Crown Court.

Stonegate today (Wednesday, May 18) denied four health and safety charges brought by Durham County Council in the wake of the death, more than four years ago, of 20-year-old Olivia Burt.

The first year Durham University undergraduate, from Hampshire, died following a crush as students queued outside Missoula bar, in the city’s Walkergate complex, on February 7, 2018.

The Northern Echo:

She, was fatally injured when a barrier collapsed outside the bar, which has since reverted to its original name of The Slug and Lettuce.

Although the Crown Prosecution Service decided against pursuing corporate manslaughter charges, the company, based in Solihull, in the West Midlands, is now being prosecuted by the county council over alleged breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Among the charges faced by the company include failing to ensure the “decorative perimeter fence around the external seating areas” was suitable for use “as a crowd control barrier”.

It is alleged that such use was not "in accordance with the manufacturer's guidance and instructions". 

The company is also charged with failing to identify, “the risk to patrons being made to queue alongside the perimeter fence which was unsuitable and inadequate crowd control barrier and not constructed or installed for that purpose”.

Prashant Popat QC formally entered the not guilty pleas on behalf of the company at a plea hearing at Durham Crown Court today.

Read more: Pub in court over death of student Olivia Burt in Durham

Prosecuting counsel, Jamie Hill QC, said that due to the number of witnesses expected to give evidence the case could last between three and four weeks.

He said there were a total of 33 witnesses of whom at least 15 would be likely to give evidence.

Judge James Adkin, the Honorary Judicial Recorder of Durham, said while it would have been preferable for the case to be heard, “in this city”, a trial of that length was, “just impossible” at the relativelky small court centre.

He said he would contact his counterpart at Teesside to see if the Middlesbrough court complex could accommodate the case, but he said it would probably be unlikely to be heard until well into next year, possibly only by the autumn, due to the heavy backlog of cases post-Covid.

Stage dates were set for the submission of evidence, including the defence case by September 7.

The case, observed remotely via video link by Miss Burt's parents, Nigel and Paula, was adjourned for a short mention in the next two weeks once a date for the trial and the confirmed venue have been identified.

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