Created by the artist Maurice Agis, Dreamspace was a large inflatable art installation about half the size of a football pitch which consisted of "a labyrinth of 109 ovoid cells coloured blue, green, yellow, red, or grey" and was constructed from translucent PVC sheets. Designed as an "interactive experience", visitors could walk about inside the interconnected rooms whilst listening to the "drifting ambient tones of composer Stephen Montague". The experience was described by one journalist as "like being in a maze locked inside a multi-hued cavern of an enchanted mountain". All of which meant that Dreamspace was either a great big bouncy castle for adults or a work of art.
It was first unveiled on the 30th June 2006 on a "concrete plateau" situated on the Brownlow Hill side of the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral where it was the opening exhibit of the annual Brouhaha International Street Festival. On the following day a group of local youngsters turned up, and became annoyed at the imposition of a rule that those under sixteen had to be accompanied by an adult, as a result of which one or more of their number took a knife to the structure. Dreamscape was however soon repaired and re-opened without further incident.
This was however merely the first stage of Dreamscape's three-venue British tour which, having taken in Chester-le-Street in County Durham was due to end outside the Imperial War Museum in London, and for which it received £60,000 in funding from the Arts Council. On the 22nd July 2006 the installation therefore left Liverpool enroute to the next stage of its national tour at the Riverside Park in Chester-le-Street.
At around 3.30 pm the very next day, Sunday 23rd July 2006, Dreamspace came free from its moorings, rose up to about thirty feet in the air, and then travelled across the Riverside Park until it collided with a post supporting a CCTV camera and was brought crashing to the ground. One eyewitness named Chris Gillott, who was working in a nearby cafe described the scene; "People started screaming and Dreamspace started moving across the park. Everyone was running away. Then it flipped right over and went upside down, bending in on itself. It landed on loads of people." Unfortunately there were also around thirty people on the inflatable at the time Dreamspace took its unscheduled flight and it therefore needed a fleet of six ambulances and two air ambulances to transport the injured to hospital. The result was later described as "a war scene".
The seventy-four year old Maurice Agis was himself left clinging to his artwork as it took off. His girlfriend, Paloma Brotons, saw him being pulled into the air as the inflatable rose up at about 3.30pm. "I saw him flying with it and I thought he was going to be killed," she later said.
Mr Agis survived the experience. Unfortunately two of those trapped within the structure did not. They were later named as Claire Furmedge, a thirty-eight year-old mother who with her daughters, and a sixty-eight year-old grandmother named Elizabeth Anne Collings was with her fourteen year-old grandson Craig, both of whom were thrown clear and died after having "fallen from a great height". There was also a third woman named Gemma Nadolski who also fell from the inflatable artwork but survived, as well as a three-year-old girl named Rosie Wright from Langley Park near Durham who "suffered horrendous injuries" when the sculpture landed on top of her, but was luckily spotted in the collapsed structure by a passing anaesthetist, and rushed by an air ambulance to Newcastle General Hospital.
Various suggestions were put forward at the time as to the cause of the incident, such as a freak wind, deliberate sabotage, or the effects of the hot afternoon sun that might possibly have turned the structure into a hot air balloon. However as far as Chief Superintendent Trevor Watson of Durham Constabulary was concerned he was "pursuing all lines of inquiry " and "keeping a very open mind". Although he did note that they hadn't received any reports indicating that was particularly windy at the time.
Soon afterwards it emerged that Agis had experienced problems with other such art installations in the past. A similar structure called Colourspace had flipped over at Travermunde in Germany in 1986 and injured five people, whilst another of Agis's inflatable sculptures titled Clause 28 had gone adrift during high winds at the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988. On that occasion both Agis and a fellow worker were dragged some thirty feet into the air. Agis himself suffered back injuries, while the worker was dumped into the River Clyde. Given what had since happened at Chester-le-St in 2006 it was understandable why Agis later publicly vowed never to build anything like Dreamspace again.
On the 29th November 2006 Agis attended Charing Cross police station where he was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter. He later returned some months later on the 13th February 2008 when he formally charged with gross negligence manslaughter as well as an offence under Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. He was released on police bail to appear before North Durham Magistrates' Court, sitting in Peterlee on the 26th February. Further charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 were also brought against Brouhaha International Limited, Chester-le-Street District Council, and Mark Anthony Galloway, the council's director of development services. Both Brouhaha and the local authority subsequently admitted a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act, although the charges against Galloway were left to lie on file after he pleaded not guilty.
The trial of Maurice Agis on charges of manslaughter and contravening the Health and Safety at Work Act at Newcastle Crown Court on the 26th January 2009.
The prosecution case was that Maurice Agis had never carried out any proper calculations or tests to ensure that Dreamscape was equiped with a aafe anchorage system and that he never had the structure assessed by a qualified engineer. It was also claimed that even though Chester-le-St District Council had carried out a risk assessment which was inadequate. it had nevertheless specified that forty pegs were required to secure the artwork, and Agis had used no more than thirty-one.
Various employees of Brouhaha also testified that they had noticed that the wind was raising the structure off the ground and so decided to evacuate the structure, However Agis told them to re-open the attraction after instructing them to attach some more ropes to pegs around the structure, but then interrupted them before they could complete the task and told to resume duties at the entrance, so that he and his partner could enjoy a "refreshment break".
However although the jury reached a verdict of guilty on the Health and Safety charge on the 24th February 2009, they were unable to reach verdicts on the manslaughter charges, and the jury was discharged on the 25th February. The Crown Prosecution Service later confirmed on the 6th March that they would not be seeking a retrial.
The guilty parties were subsequently sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court on the 26th March 2009. Brouhaha International was fined £4,000, with Chester-le-Street District Council was forced to pay a penalty of £20,000. Agis himself was ordered to pay a fine of £10,000; although in his case he was allowed to pay this off at the rate of £80 a month, given that he was now living on a weekly £125 state pension with only £4,500 in his bank account.
The families of the deceased expressed were reported to have expressed their disappointment with the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to retry the case, and were also said to be contemplating civil action.
- Mike Chapple, Dreamspace returns in all its multi-coloured glory, Liverpool Daily Post, Jun 29 2006
- Tragedy At Chester-le-street's Riverside Park, 23rd July, 2006
- Inflatable tragedy latest, Northern Echo, 24th Jul 2006
- Women killed in inflatable accident named, Northern Echo, 24th Jul 2006
- Artwork victims 'fell to deaths', BBC News, 24 July 2006
- Paul Stokes, Sun turned inflatable artwork into a killer, Daily Telegraph, 25/07/2006
- Probe into other accidents linked to inflatable horror, Northern Echo, 9th Aug 2006
- Dreamspace Creator Charged With Manslaughter, 13th February, 2008
- Dreamscape artist in court for manslaughter, Shields Gazette, 26 September 2008
- Council admits Dreamspace safety failings, Evening Chronicle, Dec 19 2008
- 31 metal pegs found at scene of tragedy, Northern Echo, 5th February 2009
10:23am Thursday http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/4103317.31_metal_pegs_found_at_scene_of_tragedy/
- Gareth Llewellyn, Three trapped in earlier type of Dreamspace, The Journal, Feb 13 2009
- Tony Kearney, Dreamspace jury discharged, Durham Times, 25th February 2009
- Chris Stewart, Near disaster of artist's early work, 6 March 2009
- Maurice Agis £10,000 Dreamspace fine 'not the value of lost lives',The Journal, Mar 27 2009