Arts Centre Auriel: charges not proven

Photograph by Tomos Nolan

Photograph by Tomos Nolan

THE OPERATIONS Manager at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Auriel Martin, has been reinstated after an independent panel returned a Not Proven verdict on twelve charges brought against her and a guilty verdict on one, regarding the Black House Event on February 2nd 2013.

A University report on the event was featured on the front page of the Cambrian News a fortnight ago after a freedom of information request. The report appears to address many areas which would have been health and safety breaches, leading to the suspension of Martin and Alan Hewson, former Director of the Arts Centre.

A tribunal about the event found Martin guilty on one charge, the nature of  which has not been revealed.

However, a source involved in the event, who does not want their identity to be revealed, slammed the report saying it “Had areas that were completely untrue”.

The nine-page report produced by the University, and available online, appears as though it may have been part of a much wider report, indicating why the report proceeds from point 2.3 to 15.1 however a University statement to The Courier said “There are no missing sections to the report published; the numbering mentioned is quite simply a formatting issue.”

Subsequent questions have been raised as to what the missing sections contained, and no explanation given for missing material and nothing in the report that was redacted, as is common practice.

Similarly, it was recently pointed out in the Cambrian News, by organiser Kirk Holland, that the photographs were taken between 7:30pm and 8:30pm, with problems addressed during the 9PM safety checks. He said to the Cambrian News “temporary barriers were removed, items of fabric were taken down, fire exits were cleared and the joss stick was removed”. Holland, speaking to The Courier, said “The University HS&E advisors were actively involved in the decision making process regarding health and safety, suggesting a number of improvements that needed making before the event could proceed, which were made”. The Courier was informed by a source saying that the HS&E advisors were aware that the venue was not set up as it intended to be when the event started.

However the report seems to infer that at the time of the photographs being taken, the room was set ready for the event to begin.

Our source also raised questions regarding the health and safety concerns mentioned in the report and why, if they were so paramount, the event was agreed as okay to proceed at 10:00pm on the night in question. If there were breaches of health and safety outstanding at the time of the event being given the go ahead, it would have been negligent towards their “duty of care” regarding health and safety at a public event in a University building.

Dr Andrew Walker, director of the University Health, Safety and Environment department, who wrote the report, and Craig Turner, Ceredigion’s Business Fire Safety Manager testified on the behalf of Auriel Martin at the tribunal.

It was also made aware to The Courier that the person, who eventually represented the University in the tribunal, conducted the original investigative interviews regarding events that night.

The first part of the report states that the Arts Centre has a “completely silent 3 minute alert, with only flashing beacons to indicate that a fire may have started”.

It also states that “the alarm system had been taken off the Alarm Receiving Centre when a large-scale event was happening, thus removing the automatic link to the Fire and Rescue Service”.

However, a Courier source states that this was not the case, and that the alarm was not silent and that the reason for delayed response was to protect against false call-outs. This is something in line with University Policy of delayed response, which states “When the alarm goes and evacuation is happening, a trained person will investigate the area where the detection system has activated. If it is clearly a false alarm then the Fire Brigade call out will be cancelled”. This is the same procedure that occurred during the evening event of MidMad 2012, when the fire alarm was raised and the immediate evacuation of the building and performers was triggered.

The University had also realised problems with the fire alarm system before Christmas 2012, taking no action before Black House to rectify this, with the University being responsible for the maintenance, management and installation of the system, under the direction from the University Fire Protection officer in 2005. Therefore if the fire alarm system was not satisfactory, no action had been taken by the University in the two months previous to the event, opening up the chance for problems to occur.

The report goes on to state in point 1.2 that “No risk assessment was provided for a proposed angle grinder act…but the failure to provide this was not seen as a problem by the promoters”. Event organiser, Kirk Holland said “This was not the case; we cancelled the act because they could not provide a sufficient risk assessment by our deadline, in line with proper procedures.”

The University report continues “Due to concerns raised by the nature of RAs (Risk Assessments) and reluctance of organisers to cancel the angle grinder act, the HS&E advisors for the University attended the Arts Centre just before the event to observe the setting up and layout of the event”. According to another source, this is not the case as weeks before Martin had invited HS&E representatives from the University herself, in order to ensure the event was okay to proceed.

The DJ booth that blocked the fire exit in point 15.1 stayed in place but considerably larger doors, not included in the photograph in the report, to the right of booth were opened as a fire exit, allowing ample room for evacuation in the event of a fire.

The hanging material that was described in point 15.3, was in place for performers to get changed, due to the lack of designated changing rooms at the Arts Centre and was removed as soon as this had taken place and was not in place when HS&E advisors from the University signed off the event.

The point continues “The height of the drape covering the great hall would have presented a significant risk if the angle grinder act had been permitted to proceed due to its height above ground level”. This contradicts the sequence of events given to the Courier by our source, who says that the drapes were erected between 3 and 4PM on the afternoon, hours after the angle grinder act was cancelled.

The Courier was also informed that all drapes as standard, whether they were at risk of catching flame or otherwise, had been sprayed with Flamebar Fire retardant spray, which passes the BS5852:1990 ignitability of upholstered seating by smouldering and flaming ignition sources and BS5867:part2:1980, the requirements to test for flammability of material intended to be used as drapes or curtains.

When asked for comment, the University declined to address issues raised in the report, and repeated that the report provided via the Freedom of Information request was complete, pointing towards the statement issued by the University on the 16th of August on their website.