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Inquest into the death of Radiohead drum tech recommends changes to live sector processes and regulation

By | Published on Friday 12 April 2019


A coroner’s inquest into the death, seven years ago, of Radiohead drum tech Scott Johnson, after staging collapsed ahead of a show in Toronto, has made a stack of recommendations as to what regulators could do to stop such a tragedy from occurring again.

Johnson was killed and three others injured ahead of a planned Radiohead show at Downsview Park in Toronto in 2012, after a scaffolding structure collapsed onto the open-air stage on which the band were due to perform.

The show was promoted by Live Nation, and the live music giant was subsequently charged under Ontario’s Occupational Health And Safety Act, alongside provider Optex Staging & Services Inc and an individual engineer working on the show, Domenic Cugliari.

The criminal case reached court in 2015, but quickly started to drag. Then in June 2017 the judge overseeing the trial was promoted and no longer had jurisdiction. As a result a mistrial was declared and the whole case was set to begin anew. However, the defendants then argued that the criminal proceedings should instead be abandoned, citing a relatively new precedent in Canadian law designed to stop criminal cases from dragging on indefinitely.

The new judge considering the case then agreed that, under said new precedent, the charges against Live Nation, Optex and Cugliari should indeed be ‘permanently stayed’.

The Chief Coroner of Canadian province Ontario subsequently announced that an inquest into Johnson’s death would be launched and that began last month. During the inquest hearing, it was revealed that plans for the staging being used back in 2012 contained several errors. The wrong materials had also been used for the staging’s roof structure and the construction of the stage had not had any independent oversight.

The jury’s ultimate verdict in relation to the case was that of ‘accidental death’. However, they also endorsed a series of recommendations to prevent future incidents of this kind. That included proposed new rules that would force companies that build temporary stages to be licensed and riggers that work at venues and events to be certified in a similar way to electricians. Meanwhile, it was also recommended that all staging structures should be designed and then inspected by engineers.

These recommendations are not binding on anyone, though a working group will be convened later this year to examine processes employed in the live sector in Ontario. That working group will consist of a number of experts and also Johnson’s father Ken, who has followed closely the legal proceedings in relation to his son’s death.

According to CBC, Johnson said on Wednesday that he would be “disappointed” if the inquest didn’t now result in changes – either in the law or industry practices – to ensure an incident like that that killed his son never happens again.

Johnson also said that – after the long-drawn out stress of the criminal case and the frustrating circumstances that caused it to fall apart – the conclusion of the inquest this week had brought some kind of closure. “There’s hardly a month gone by in the last seven years where I’m not involved in some dialogue about Scott and what’s happened”, he said. “So I quite look forward to perhaps not having that dialogue”.

Radiohead have also followed the legal proceedings closely and were particularly critical of how the criminal case stalled. They welcomed the conclusion of the inquest yesterday, saying in a statement on Twitter: “The inquest into the death of our friend and crew member, Scott Johnson, has now concluded. The inquest itself was conducted in a constructive, thorough and fair-minded way. It revealed the negligence and failings that led to Scott’s death”.

They went on: “A verdict of accidental death was returned, which feels frustratingly insufficient given that the stage collapse was shown to be preventable. The jury have made sound and practical recommendations to prevent such an accident happening again and to ensure the future safety of show crews and audiences. It’s up to all of us now to make sure that these recommendations are implemented”.

The band concluded: “We’d like to express our gratitude to the Coroner’s Office and the jury for their tireless work in the inquest. Our love and respect go out to Ken and Sue Johnson, Scott’s parents. He will be forever in our thoughts”.