THE creator of an inflatable artwork that broke free from its moorings, killing two women and injuring several others, went for a tea break despite warnings the wind was lifting it up, a court heard.

Claire Furmedge, 38, of Chester-le-Street, and Elizabeth Collings, 68, of Seaham, both County Durham, died in July 2006 when the PVC structure rose into the air and flipped over before crashing to the ground in Riverside Park, Chester-le-Street.

Extra ropes were ordered to be fixed to Dreamspace V by artist Maurice Agis.

Despite this not being completed, he then told staff to resume their duties so he and his partner could enjoy a “refreshment break”, said Paul Sloan, prosecuting.

There were several visitors in Dreamspace V when it lifted off the ground. The casualties were either thrown from the structure or were inside when it fell to the ground.

The two women suffered what were described as “catastrophic injuries”.

Jurors at Newcastle Crown Court saw video of the incident recorded by two CCTV cameras – one of which was hit by the multi-coloured artwork as it headed towards the River Wear – and the mobile phone of a park visitor.

They also heard that another inflatable, created by London- based Mr Agis, 77 – who faces two charges of manslaughter – had broken free from its moorings while on display in Germany in 1986.

Mr Sloan said it was about 3.30pm on Sunday, July 23, 2006, when disaster struck Dreamspace V.

He said: “There had been a number of people inside the structure when it took off.

“They give graphic accounts of standing on firm ground one moment and then, as the structure took off and turned onto its side, of facing a sheer drop before tumbling down, bouncing off the internal columns as they fell.”

He added that, earlier in the day, the left-hand side of Dreamspace, which covered an area half the size of a football pitch and was five metres high, lifted up while an employee of Brouhaha International, the company helping run the event, was hoovering inside.

“She was sufficiently concerned about what had happened to bring the incident to the attention of Maurice Agis.”

Another Brouhaha employee, Tony Davis, noticed that the wind was getting underneath the artwork and lifting it several feet shortly after it opened to the public. A number of other witnesses noticed the same or a similar phenomenon that afternoon.

“The procedure in Liverpool (where it was previously exhibited), when such an event occurred, was to evacuate the structure immediately and Tony Davis proceeded to do exactly that,” Mr Sloan said.

“However, Maurice Agis, having taken a look, said that it was okay for members of the public to re-enter.

“He did, however, instruct two Brouhaha International employees to attach some more ropes to pegs around the structure.

“They put some extra ropes at the front, to the left of the entrance, and along the lefthand side of the structure.

“They were then interrupted by the defendant, Maurice Agis, who told them to resume duties at the entrance dealing with members of the public, so that he and his partner, Paloma, could enjoy a refreshment break.

“As a result, no additional ropes and pegs were attached to the rear of the structure.”

Mr Sloan said the wind changed from southerly to westerly during the afternoon and that gusts were recorded at Durham’s weather station.

He told the jury that the anchorage system used to secure Dreamspace – ropes attached to pegs in the ground – was inadequate.

“One matter which is highly relevant to your consideration of the manslaughter charges, is whether the defendant was aware of the risk to life posed by an inadequate anchorage system, and also aware of the necessity to ensure that the system was safe and could cope with even sudden changes in weather conditions.

“The prosecution case is that the defendant was only too well aware. This was not the first time that one of his inflatable structures had broken free from its moorings, resulting in injury to persons who fell from it,” said Mr Sloan.

“On July 29, 1986, an inflatable structure called Colourspace, as exhibited by the defendant at a small town, Tavermunde, on the north German coast. Stakes had been used to anchor Colourspace to the ground.

“Initially, it was a pleasant sunny day. Then, suddenly, during the afternoon, there was a dramatic change in the weather. A summer storm struck and subjected the structure to strong gusts of winds.

“It broke free from its moorings and several people who had been inside fell from the structure and sustained injury.”

Mr Sloan told the court that Dreamspace V – people paid an entrance fee to walk inside and experience changes of light, space and colour – was at the park, run by Chester-le- Street District Council and part-funded by the Arts Council of England, having previously been displayed in Liverpool.

In Liverpool it was secured by ropes attached to heavy ballast tanks or bags filled with water rather than pegs in the ground.

The event had been approved by the Chester-le- Street Safety Advisory Group and had been inspected by a fire officer the previous day.

Mr Sloan said the defendant’s own risk assessment identified a need for 40 pegs “which the prosecution say was itself inadequate” and that far fewer were actually used to secure the artwork – 31 were later found.

Mr Agis had never produced any calculations or tests to show that 40 pegs would be adequate, and there had never been an engineering study carried out to design a safe anchoring scheme, he added.

Mr Sloan said the prosecution alleged that a gust of wind caused Dreamspace to break free of its moorings at about 3.30pm, the anchoring system having failed as “one by one ropes either snapped or the metal pegs were pulled out of the ground as the structure rose”.

“It is the prosecution case that the defendant is guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.

The defendant owed a duty of care towards each of the deceased as visitors to the Dreamspace structure.

“In failing to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that the structure was properly designed and anchored, the defendant was in breach of the duty of care he owed the deceased,” said Mr Sloan.

“As a result of his breach of duty, each died when they fell from the airborne structure.

“In other words, their deaths were caused by his breach of duty. Furthermore, say the prosecution, the defendant’s conduct was so bad in all the circumstances, having regard to the risk of death involved if the structure broke free from its moorings, that it can only be categorised as gross negligence and therefore amounting to manslaughter.”

The council’s arts officer at the time, Jo-Anne Simpson, wept as she gave evidence of how she had approached the artist to set up Dreamspace at Chester-le-Street after seeing an article on his work.

She told the court that he oversaw the unloading and setting up of the structure.

She said how, on an earlier visit, he felt the site would be good because trees on the western edge of the site and a small decline would provide some shelter. She told how Mr Agis’s risk assessment included the need for 40 pegs, “evacuation closure and deflation”

if the wind got up.

She also went with artist to DIY store B&Q to get extra rope he believed was needed and said how on the day, it was hot outside, but hotter inside Dreamspace. She also told the court she thought Mr Agis was meticulous and competent.

Julie Lewcock, the council’s operations manager for Riverside Park, said the risk assessment the artist submitted was not as detailed as others she had seen.

The council and Brouhaha International, whose managing director is Mr Agis’s son, Giles, have admitted at previous hearings breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The trial was adjourned until today, when the jury will visit the park.