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Criminal case over Radiohead drum tech’s death called off due to delays

By | Published on Wednesday 6 September 2017


In what can only be described as a significant failure of the Canadian justice system, the criminal case in relation to the death of British drum tech Scott Johnson, ahead of a Radiohead concert in Toronto in 2012, has been called off because the case has taken too long to work its way through the court system.

This unsatisfactory conclusion to the criminal action against Live Nation, and others, who were accused of breaching health and safety laws after staging collapsed before the Radiohead show – killing Johnson and injuring others – is the result of a relatively recent precedent in Canadian law and the original judge hearing the case getting a promotion.

As previously reported, Johnson was killed and three others injured after a scaffolding structure collapsed onto the open-air stage on which Radiohead were due to perform. The show was promoted by Live Nation, and the live music giant was subsequently charged under Ontario’s Occupational Health And Safety Act, alongside provider Optex Staging & Services Inc and an individual engineer working on the show, Domenic Cugliari.

The criminal case arrived in court in 2015, but hopes of a speedy resolution were not met, and the proceedings dragged through 2016 too, with the hope that a judgement might be reached in early 2017. But that didn’t happen. And then the judge overseeing the case got promoted to the Ontario Superior Court, meaning he no longer had the jurisdiction to pass judgement, resulting in a mistrial being declared.

Which meant the whole trial needed to start over, in turn meaning that at least five years would have passed between charges being filed and judgement being passed. Live Nation had already attempted to have the case dismissed, even before Nakatsuru had stood down, citing a relatively new precedent in Canadian law over unreasonably long court battles. So, it seemed inevitable that the live giant would have another go thanks to the new delays caused by Nakatsuru’s promotion.

And now another judge, Ann Nelson, has complied with that request to stay the charges, stating: “This case was a complex case that required more time than other cases in the system. [But], after allowing for all of the exceptional circumstances that were in play, this case still will have taken too long to complete”.

The aforementioned new precedent aiming to stop legal cases dragging on too much set a presumptive ceiling of eighteen months for proceedings in provincial courts. There is, of course, a logic to that precedent, though its application hardly constitutes justice in this case. Which is something even Nelson conceded when she wrote: “No doubt, this decision will be incomprehensible to Mr Johnson’s family, who can justifiably complain that justice has not been done”.

Johnson’s father told reporters that he wasn’t surprised by Nelson’s decision, but that it was “absolutely staggering” that this case was being called off because of a precedent which came into effect after the trial into his son’s death had started.

He told the Toronto Star: “I quite like the idea, that the liberal nation that Canada is, that it wants to be fair across the board, but I don’t see any fairness in this judgment at all and I don’t see how anybody else can, to be honest. It doesn’t tell us why our son was killed and we’re none the wiser, as things stand, as to why he’s not here. I’m not very happy about it, but I’m equally resigned to the fact that there doesn’t seem much we can do about it”.