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Radiohead Stage Death Inquest Ends With Safety Recommendations & a Verdict the Band Calls 'Frustratingly Insufficient'

Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood
Roberto Panucci - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood (on piano) of the group Radiohead performs on stage on Aug. 20, 2017 in Macerata, Italy. 

Authorities in Ontario have released the verdict of the coroner’s jury along with recommendations following an inquest into the death of Radiohead drum tech Scott Johnson, making 28 suggestions to ensure the safe build and use of temporary performance stages.   

The 33-year-old crew member was killed on June 16, 2012, after the stage roof collapsed at Downsview Park, in north Toronto, an hour before gates were set to open for the band’s concert. Johnson died instantly of a "crushing injury to head and brain," according to the report.   

Recommendations from the inquest, via the Criminal Investigations Branch of the Ontario Provincial Police, include everything from amendments to building codes and the Occupational Health and Safety Act to requiring an engineer design all demountable event structures, be present for the build, and inspect the structure; as well as all local riggers go through a certifications or licensing process.   

Addressed to the relevant sectors and parties, the recommendations are listed under six sections: working group, building oversight; occupational health and safety, engineering practice; owner/operator and promoter obligations; and training for workers.   

The first recommendation is the establishment of "a permanent working group in conjunction with representatives of the live entertainment industry and labour working in the industry as well as Professional Engineers Ontario (the "Working Group")," by December 2019. 

The group, to meet regularly, would be funded by Ontario to “develop and maintain a fully integrated and consistent approach to the processes involved in the live performance industry, including the construction and use of demountable event structures (also known as temporary performance stages)."

The working group is to be comprised of Scott's father, Ken Johnson, and experts from the live performance and staging industry, "including all levels of government, professional engineers, staging companies, production managers, promoters, artists, relevant worker groups and unions, and emergency services."

The inquest was at the behest of Scott’s parents, and Radiohead, after the charges were dropped five years after the accident. Following the ruling and recommendations, Radiohead issued a statement calling the verdict of accidental death "frustratingly insufficient given that the stage collapse was shown to be preventable," but also praised the jury for making "sound and practical" recommendations to prevent future accidents.

Following Johnson’s death, the Ontario Ministry of Labour, the Canadian government department that develops and enforces workplace health and safety standards, looked into the roles of at least four companies involved in the staging and staffing of the concert.

After a year of investigation, Live Nation, Optex Staging & Services and the engineer, Domenic Cugliari, hired to design the stage, were charged with 13 offences under Ontario health and safety laws. The trial began in June 2013 in Ontario Court Justice.  All defendants pleaded not guilty.

But in 2017, with three days remaining in the trial, judge Shaun Nakatsuru was appointed to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. No longer having jurisdiction, he declared a mistrial.  The newly appointed judge, Ann Nelson, ruled in favour of the defendants' application to drop the case under 2016's Supreme Court of Canada's landmark Jordan decision that ruled an accused person is entitled to a trial without unreasonable delays.

In September of 2017, five years after the accident, the charges were stayed.

According to the comprehensive piece by CBC, Radiohead's management and Scott’s parents met with the British Members of Parliament who wrote letters to the Canadian High Commission. Radiohead had also been in contact with Ontario officials seeking the inquest.


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