Vue Entertainment fined £750,000 over cinema seat death

20 July 2021, 17:55 | Updated: 20 July 2021, 18:12

24-year-old Ateeq Rafiq died in hospital in 2018 after his neck became trapped under a chair at the Vue cinema in Star City, Birmingham
24-year-old Ateeq Rafiq died in hospital in 2018 after his neck became trapped under a chair at the Vue cinema in Star City, Birmingham. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Vue Entertainment has been fined £750,000 for safety breaches after a cinema chair's leg-rest fatally trapped a film-goer three years ago.

Ateeq Rafiq, 24, died in hospital in March 2018 after his neck became wedged under the powered chair, which was found to have a blown fuse in its control box.

Birmingham Crown Court was told the father-of-one had kneeled down to search for his keys and phone, unaware that the foot-rest at Vue's cinema at the Star City leisure complex was impossible to lift by hand.

An inquest held in 2019 was told other luxury seats had a leg-rest that could be lifted up, due to being fitted with a different actuator.

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Vue, based in Chiswick, west London, pleaded guilty earlier this year after an investigation by Birmingham City Council's health and safety inspector supported by Health and Safety Executive engineers.

As well as failing to ensure the health and safety of persons not employed by the company in connection with the installation, maintenance and use of powered cinema seating, Vue admitted failing to make a "suitable and sufficient" risk assessment of a number of faulty seats.

Fining Vue Entertainment, which was also ordered to pay £130,000 in costs, Judge Heidi Kubik QC said Mr Rafiq had died in "an accident that never should have happened".

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The court heard the pressure of the faulty "fatal crush hazard" seat would have been equivalent to three-quarters of a metric ton.

The judge said: "Nothing I say can ameliorate the loss suffered by his wife and family.

"It is conceded that clearly a number of members of the public were exposed to the same risk of harm.

"The complete lack of a risk assessment was a significant cause of the actual harm that resulted."

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Accepting various mitigating factors advanced on behalf of Vue, the judge added: "It is obviously positive mitigation on behalf of this company that they have no previous convictions or matters coming before the court.

"They have a very positive health and safety record."

In a statement issued after it was fined, Vue said: "The death of Mr Rafiq saddened everybody at Vue and we remain deeply sorry for the loss suffered by his family and friends.

"We hope that the end of these proceedings brings some closure to them following this tragic accident.

"All recliners of the type involved in the incident have been removed from our cinemas and we have taken all possible steps to learn from this and ensure it could not happen again."

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The council said 15 of the 141 powered reclining seats across three "Gold Class" screens at Vue Star City were found to have footrests which could not be raised manually.

Philip Davis, chairman of the city council's Licensing and Public Protection Committee, said: "As a result of these failings by Vue, a young man who had gone to the cinema with his wife suffered fatal injuries.

"This tragic incident should never have happened, and my thoughts remain with his wife and family.

"People go to the cinema to enjoy films with friends and family, no-one should have to consider whether their safety is at risk while watching a film."