Vue cinemas fined £750,000 over death of customer trapped by chair

Vue Cinemas

Cinema chain Vue has been fined £750,000 for safety breaches after a filmgoer died when he became trapped under a cinema chair leg-rest in 2018.

Ateeq Rafiq, 24, died in hospital after his neck became stuck under the powered chair, which was found to have blown a fuse in its control box, as he searched for his phone and keys after watching a movie.

At Birmingham crown court on Tuesday, Judge Heidi Kubik QC also ordered the company to pay £130,000 in costs, and said Rafiq died in “an accident that never should have happened”.

The judge said: “Nothing I can say can ameliorate the loss suffered by his wife and family.”

She said other members of the public were exposed to the same of risk of harm and “the complete lack of a risk assessment was a significant cause” behind the fatal incident.

At a hearing in April, Vue Entertainment Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the health and safety of persons not employed by the company in connection with the use of powered cinema seating, and failing to make a “suitable and sufficient risk assessment” of a number of faulty seats.

A previous inquest in 2019 recorded a verdict of accidental death, with the jury foreman ruling there had been “missed opportunities to undertake comprehensive safety checks of the chairs”, according to the BBC.

Rafiq, a father of one from Aston, Birmingham, visited the cinema at Star City with his wife on 9 March 2018 and bought tickets for gold-class seats.

At the end of the film, he suspected his keys and phone may have slipped down the side of his reclining seat, which had a footrest pulled up. As he searched under the seat, the footrest started to come down on him and his wife, Ayesha Sardar, was unable to hold it up.

Staff spent 10 to 15 minutes trying to release Rafiq, who died on 16 March after suffering a hypoxic brain injury.

In her ruling, Kubik added that the company has no previous convictions and a “very positive health and safety record”.

In a statement issued after the sentencing, Vue said: “The death of Mr Rafiq saddened everybody at Vue and we remain deeply sorry for the loss suffered by his family and friends.

“We hope that the end of these proceedings brings some closure to them following this tragic accident.

“All recliners of the type involved in the incident have been removed from our cinemas and we have taken all possible steps to learn from this and ensure it could not happen again.”