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What was supposed to be a picture-perfect memory from a couple’s wedding celebration turned out to be a nightmare.

As attendees gathered on an exterior wooden staircase for photographs, they plunged to the ground when the ‘particularly rotted’ upper flight of the stairs collapsed.

Some 10 guests fell onto the hard courtyard below and seven were taken to hospital. Two of those people ended up with long-term injuries.

Peterborough Magistrates Court was told although the stairs were regularly used, including for wedding photos, they had not been properly maintained and the timber had become rotten.

The posts holding up the stairs at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Breakspear Way, Hemel Hempstead were particularly rotted and made of laminated softwood not suited for use outdoors, especially without thorough maintenance.

HICP Limited, which had owned the hotel since spring 2015, was ordered to pay a fine, costs and surcharge totalling more than £110,000.

Interstate United Kingdom Management Limited, which assisted HICP in the management of the hotel, was ordered to pay penalties of almost £50,000.

Peterborough Magistrates' Court was told although the stairs were regularly used, including for weddings photos, they had not been properly maintained (Picture: Google Streetview)
Peterborough Magistrates’ Court was told although the stairs were regularly used, including for wedding photos, they had not been properly maintained (Picture: Google Maps)

Guests had gathered on the stairs for photos – with more about to join in – when the upper flight of stairs collapsed ‘like a trap door’. Part of the stairs and 10 people standing on that part fell down onto the hard courtyard below.

Upon examination by investigators and timber experts, the staircase and adjoining large wooden balcony area were found to be rotten in many places, and parts of the rotten areas had been inappropriately filled with foam filler, or with solid filler which had been painted over.

Fingers or ballpoint pens could readily be poked into or through the wood in places, and there was a danger of the structure collapsing.

In sentencing, the court reduced the penalties to reflect the impact of Covid-19 on hospitality companies’ finances and to reflect the defendants’ previous good character and early guilty pleas.

The prosecution had been brought by Dacorum Borough Council.

Councillor Julie Banks said: “I consider the safety of local residents and visitors to be imperative.

“All those involved in running businesses and operations should understand that they may face prosecution for their part in such failings, as the two companies did here, facing substantial penalties, despite the allowance rightly made for the impact of Covid-19 on hotel businesses in recent times.”