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Parents criticise pub chain Stonegate after student’s death outside bar

Olivia Burt, 20, died when a decorative screen fell on her as she queued outside a Durham bar in 2018.

The parents of a student crushed to death by a falling decorative screen while waiting outside a busy nightclub have criticised the billion-pound firm that owned the venue.

Olivia Burt, a 20-year-old life sciences first year at Durham University, suffered severe head injuries when the screen fell on her as she queued to get in to the city’s Missoula bar in February 2018.

The venue was full of student sports teams on a Wednesday night and a crowd had gathered outside, waiting to get in.

Olivia Burt court case
CCTV images outside the bar as customers queued on the night Olivia Burt was killed (Durham County Council/PA)

After a three-week trial at Teesside Crown Court, Stonegate, the UK’s biggest pub chain, was convicted of failing to ensure the health and safety of those attending its venue.

The screen also fell over 30 minutes before Olivia was hit but it was merely lifted back into place and the chance to avoid tragedy was missed, jurors were told.

In moving victim impact statements, her parents Paula and Nigel spoke of their loss.

They recalled their daughter’s smile and infectious laugh and described her as her mother’s best friend.

Her mother said: “Olivia was my whole world. Now Olivia is dead.

“She was taken from us in the cruelest possible way.”

Paul Hind court case
Nigel and Paula Burt attending court when an internet troll was prosecuted for posts he made about their daughter (PA)

A man was jailed after an internet troll posted messages about Ms Burt on Facebook after her death, they also said.

The parents criticised Stonegate outside court.

They said in a statement: “Olivia was our only child and meant everything to us.

“It is incomprehensible to us how she could have died on a night out with friends whilst simply standing in a queue.

Durham student death
Police investigators at the scene outside the Missoula bar in Durham (PA)

“Stonegate is the largest pub company in the UK.

“According to their annual report 2022, Stonegate doubled their revenue to £1.6 billion and their vision is ‘to raise the bar on the British pub by being the best for our guests, people and communities’.

“This did not happen at Missoula and led to the death of our wonderful daughter.

“Stonegate should never have used decorative fencing for crowd management.

“Stonegate knew the fencing was not safe after it nearly collapsed the previous year and collapsed just 30 minutes earlier on the night that Olivia died.

“Stonegate showed a complete dereliction of their duties and disregard for the safety of those attending, including Olivia.”

The family had to wait for over five years for justice and go through the trial process because the firm denied the health and safety breach.

They said: “It has been a long journey.

“Our heartbreak and pain have been prolonged by Stonegate pleading not guilty and fighting the case to trial.

“We have been waiting 1,976 days for Stonegate to be held criminally responsible.”

They added: “Olivia was at the start of her adult life in her first year at university and had so much to look forward to; this was taken away from her in the cruellest possible way.

“Our lives will never be the same again – we are heartbroken.”

Jamie Hill KC earlier summarised the prosecution case, brought by Durham County Council, saying: “It is perhaps difficult to understand how it is that a 20-year-old woman could die in such a senseless and avoidable way.

“All she was doing was standing with her friends, waiting to get in to a club which had targeted the student population as a way of filling their venue on Wednesday nights.”

Prashant Popat KC, defending, apologised in court for the breach of the firm’s duty to reduce risk, saying: “Stonegate is very sorry for that failure.

“It is a conscientious, responsible and safety-conscious organisation that prides itself on the care and attention it gives to all those who may be affected by its operations.”

Judge Howard Crowson was due to decide the fine he will impose on Thursday after hearing submissions but will now sentence from 2pm on Friday.

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