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Child maimed by museum exhibit

A museum was fined £12,000 today after one of its interactive exhibits injured a little girl.



The five-year-old, from Leeds, needed three operations to save the fingers on her left hand after it was hit by fan blades spinning at 2,250 revolutions per minute.

Surgeons battled to repair the damage done to her index and middle fingers but the girl was left permanently disfigured following the accident at The Discovery Museum in Newcastle.

Museum bosses admitted a charge under Section 3(i) of the Health and Safety at Work Act at Newcastle Magistrates' Court today.

Prosecutor Carol Forster described how one of the museum's exhibits was in the middle of being repaired when the accident happened on August 17 last year.

Called Floating On Air, the gravity-defying exhibit was part of the museum's Science Maze, designed to educate children in the basic principles of physics.

Powered by three high-speed fans channelling air through three hoses, it demonstrated how mass and air pressure worked by appearing to float a ping pong ball in mid air.

The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was on a day trip to the museum with her sister and grandmother when she inserted her hand into the gap left by one of the hoses, which had been removed earlier that day for repairs.

She was seriously hurt when her fingers hit the revolving blades just a few centimetres below.

She has since endured three major operations to repair the damage, including a skin and tendon graft, but her fingers remain bent and scarred.

The accident could easily have been prevented had a safety grate been fixed over the hole, Mrs Forster said.

She said: "This was a serious accident to a five-year-old girl who sustained serious injuries.

"The exhibit was in an unsafe condition on the day the accident occurred, which put people at risk."

Fining the Newcastle City Council-run museum £12,000 and imposing £7,733 costs, chairman of the bench William Wright said he was horrified by the accident.

He said: "The museum clearly has a large number of vulnerable people coming in through its doors.

"This was carelessness on the part of the museum and its safety regime, which we look upon with a certain amount of horror.

"However, we do think that this accident could well have been worse.

"It is a terrible thing to have to say but the tragedy that could have resulted from this in terms of loss of fingers, hands, or whatever, does not bear thinking about."

Mitigating, Rod Searl said the museum was profoundly sorry for what happened, and had spent £130,000 reviewing health and safety procedures since.

He said it was the first time The Discovery Museum, which opened in 1930 and has upwards of one million visitors a year, had been prosecuted for breaking health and safety laws.

Members of the little girl's family who witnessed the accident were in court, but did not wish to comment following the sentence.

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