Ardent Leisure charged over Dreamworld tragedy

Ardent Leisure charged over Dreamworld tragedy

The operator of Dreamworld, Ardent Leisure (ASX: ALG), could be hit with $4.5 million in fines over charges relating to the Thunder River Rapids Ride tragedy in 2016.

The company confirmed that the Queensland Work Health and Safety Prosecutor has today filed three charges against Ardent Leisure in the Magistrates Court, alleging the company breached the QLD Work Health and Safety Act (2011).

All three charges attract a maximum penalty of $1.5 million.

The court case relates to the 2016 Thunder River Rapids Ride tragedy, when the lives of four people were taken after the ride at Dreamworld malfunctioned.

The situation sparked four years of questions and inquests, with a final Coroners report revealing that the disaster was the result of "systemic failure" at Dreamworld.

Read more: Dreamworld tragedy was simply a matter of time

In a statement to the ASX today ALG again apologised to the families affected by the 2016 tragedy.

"First and foremost, we again express our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of Roozbeh Araghi, Luke Dorsett, Kate Goodchild and Cindy Low for their loss and ongoing suffering and say sorry to all of the people impacted by this tragedy," says Ardent Leisure.

"There has been considerable change at Dreamworld over the last few years as was acknowledged by the Coroner in his Report.

"Dreamworld has taken substantive and proactive steps to improve safety across the entire park and continues to enhance existing systems and practices, as well as adopt new ones, as we develop and implement our safety case in accordance with the Queensland Government's new major amusement park safety regulations."

In a report handed down by the Coroners Court of Queensland in February this year Coroner James McDougall found the ride was clearly unsafe and "shoddy" record keeping was also to blame.

"It is clear from the expert evidence that at the time of the incident, the design and construction of the TRRR at the conveyor and unload area posed a significant risk to the health and safety of patrons," said McDougall.

"This general ignorance of proper safety and adequate assessments was a recurring theme throughout Dreamworld in many of the Departments and reflects a systemic failure to ensure the safety of patrons and staff by the use of a proper safety management system, with the necessary engineering oversight of high risk plant."

The conjunction with the release of the report the Queensland Government committed to ensuring theme park safety was improved.

"The majority of recommendations in the findings have already been implemented by the decisive steps we have taken in the past three years to improve safety on amusement rides," said the office of the Minister for Education and Industrial Relations Grace Grace in February.

"But we are conducting a thorough examination of the recommendations to determine if more needs to be done to ensure the highest levels of safety in theme parks."

"We are committed to providing the highest safety standards, from rides at carnivals and school fairs, to those at our major theme parks."

The Queensland Work Health and Safety Prosecutor's case follows a class action launched by Piper Alderman in June 2020 also relating to the 2016 tragedy.

The Sydney-headquartered group reported the proceedings had been filed by law firm Piper Alderman in the Federal Court of Australia on behalf of people who purchased ALG shares in the 28 months leading up to the event.

Ardent Leisure said it intended on "vigorously" defending proceedings.

Though the disaster was nearly four years ago it continued to impact Ardent Leisure's financial results in the years that followed.

At the end of FY19 the company reported a loss of $60.9 million, with the company saying it continued to be impacted by post-incident trading conditions for its theme parks business.

The group was also hit by costs associated with Coronial Inquest hearings into the Dreamworld disaster, non-recurring costs, as well as further impairment charges at the previously impaired US centres.

Shares in Ardent Leisure are up 2.99 per cent to $0.34 per share at 11:31am AEST.

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