A pub group has been fined £1.56m after a promising young student died when a heavy screen collapsed and crushed her while she was queuing outside a nightclub.

Olivia Burt suffered fatal head injuries when the partition gave way and she fell underneath the one-tonne barrier outside Missoula, in Durham City centre.

The 20-year-old Durham University student’s parents gave heart-breaking tributes to their only child when the club’s owner was found guilty of a health and safety breach.

The venue, which was operated by the Stonegate Pub Company, was struggling to deal with an unexpected influx of students on the night of the 20-year-old’s death, Teesside Crown Court heard.

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Judge Howard Crowson said the bar’s management missed an opportunity to prevent the tragedy when a similar partition screen collapsed around 30 minutes before the student died just before midnight on February 2, 2018.

The Northern Echo: Olivia BurtOlivia Burt (Image: Durham Constabulary)

“The screen was lifted back into place with direction and assistance of the assistant manager and the queue was allowed to gather again,” he said.

“The company approach was that the screens themselves were not risky but it was the push and pull of people that leads to risk – I have found that to be a hard argument to accept.

“Once the screen had fallen, there was an obvious risk that it would do so again.”

The Northern Echo: Investigations being carried out following Olivia Burt's deathInvestigations being carried out following Olivia Burt's death

Telling the company that the heightened risk arose immediately after the first collapse, the judge added: “The customers could have been dispersed like the defence expert accepted.

“From this point onwards, the critical control was to make sure that was not a large force exerted on that screen and the way to ensure that did not happen was to make sure people were not lining along the perimeter screen.

“If that had been done then the tragedy that later occurred would not have occurred.”

He added: “The penalty in such a case is financial, the ill-informed will often try to equate a financial penalty with a loss of life, my sentence is not an attempt to measure the worth of Olivia’s life - her life is of course priceless.”

Yesterday, Miss Burt’s mother, Paula, fought back tears as she described in the insufferable loss the family had endured since Olivia’s life was cut short.

The Northern Echo: Olivia Burt sailingOlivia Burt sailing

She said: “Olivia was, and still is, the most important person in my life. Although no one is perfect, Olivia was perfect for us.

“Olivia was everything I ever wanted and hoped for in a child. She was my best friend,” she said.

“Olivia’s smile would light up a room, and her laughter was infectious. Her kind and thoughtful spirit shone through in everything she did. She was my whole world.”

And the student’s father, Nigel, said the family’s life was torn apart when two police officers knocked on their door and told them Olivia was dead.

The Northern Echo: Olivia Burt with her parents, Paula and NigelOlivia Burt with her parents, Paula and Nigel (Image: Contributor)

“I will never get to see her graduate from Durham University. I will never get to walk her down the aisle,” he said. “Olivia, I couldn’t protect you on that night – I’m sorry.”

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The 20-year-old, who was head girl at Bournemouth School for Girls and represented Great Britain in sailing, was in her first year at the university studying natural science.

During the trial, jurors watched CCTV footage showing the collapse of the screen in the background and shocked students and security staff rushing over.

They also saw footage of an incident around half an hour earlier when a barrier in a different area of the venue collapsed.

The company was also ordered to pay more than £225,000 in costs to Durham County Council which carried out the investigation into the health and safety breach.