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Merlin has no magic wand to gag theme park safety campaigner

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A judge has backed the right of a critic of Merlin Entertainments’ theme park safety record to continue his “robust” campaign against the owners of Alton Towers and Chessington World of Adventures. The High Court judgment has asserted the obligation companies have to endure criticism even if it is upsetting or senior employees feel harassed by it.

Merlin Entertainments had sought a court injunction against a mass emailing and internet campaign on theme park safety by Dr Peter Cave and alleged he was harassing their staff. But Mrs Justice Laing said:

“An almost inevitable consequence of occupying a position of responsibility in a plc, the business of which affects many members of the public, is that, at times, a person will be exposed to robust, and occasionally upsetting, criticism. Its officers should, of course, be protected from real harassment. But they are not immune from criticism, even if that is misguided and intemperate.” (Para 56)

The judge took no view on the validity of Dr Cave’s criticisms but said that if they were unjust, the proper recourse for Merlin was the libel courts, not an injunction. “If such a claim succeeds, the level of damages will reflect the distress caused by the defamation.”

Dr Cave’s interest in theme park safety was prompted by the accident at Chessington in which Jessica Blake, 4, was seriously injured in 2012. Dr Cave and his company, Peer Egerton Limited (PEL) were hired to do a condition survey on the park after the accident.

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