A woman suffered a broken neck after plunging head first into shallow water on a slide at the Gelt Gladiator endurance event.
Carlisle Crown Court heard Cheryl Armstrong was one of five competitors who sustained “serious or potentially life-changing injuries” when the inaugural outdoor challenge at Low Gelt, near Brampton, “went badly wrong”.
Fellow participant Steven Martin suffered a fractured collarbone, concussion and a spinal injury on the same Avalanche 2 obstacle at the site in May 2015.
Three other people suffered lower limb breaks or dislocations at a final course hurdle known as Mud Bomb.
They leapt from planks into murky water, unaware one section was “dangerously shallow”, striking a hard base just below the surface.
Neither obstacle had been properly risk-assessed amid a “catalogue of errors” which led to the terrible injuries.
Details of the injuries emerged in court as event director Mike James received a suspended 10-month jail term for two health and safety breaches.
James, 42, admitted not taking reasonable measures to protect Gelt Gladiator participants at that event and failing to report details of Mr Martin’s injuries within 10 days.
Timothy Pole, prosecuting, said James was the sole director of Endurance Sports Limited when the first Gelt Gladiator took place in 2015.
Almost 2,500 people, including children, took part over separate 10km, 5km and 1km routes.
“That event went badly wrong,” said Mr Pole.
“A number of participants suffered serious and significant injuries. At least two of the obstacles presented a significant danger of serious injury.”
Ms Armstrong and Mr Martin were seriously hurt within moments of each other at Avalanche 2. Having careered into the too-shallow water, Ms Armstrong felt an “excruciating pain in her neck”.
She underwent complex surgery during a 10-hour operation and was off work for five months having suffered “life-changing” injures.
There were no warning signs or user advice at Avalanche 2, where Mr Martin lay injured “for some considerable time” because there was only one casualty board. That obstacle was quickly closed. But the same could not be said for Mud Bomb.
Two people were hurt in the afternoon despite the first injury occurring at 10.30am.
Stuart Rogerson suffered a broken ankle and fibula in the morning on the 10km course.
Rebecca Glaister broke her ankle on the 5km route and Darren Armstrong – tackling the 1km “fun” course with his 11-year-old daughter – suffered a dislocated ankle.
It was “particularly distressing” for Mrs Glaister, said Mr Pole. “Her husband and two young children had gathered at the final obstacle to cheer her on, only to see her sustain a serious injury”.
A probe by Carlisle City Council, the enforcing authority, revealed a host of health and safety failings.
Obstacles were not risk-assessed, the court heard and some were still being prepared the day before. No safe-depth water checks took place.
There was no event control manager on the day, no control room, Mud Bomb marshals were without radios and there were insufficient volunteers – some helpers even being “replaced by cones”.
James conceded that he “underestimated the enormity of the work” needed to stage that first event.
Mark Shepherd, defending, said: “There is an acceptance by Mr James in this case of what can only be described as a catalogue of errors, in 2015, that led to serious injuries. That is something he is genuinely moved by and has taken steps since that time to put things right for future participants.
“He readily accepts that doesn’t put this right for the people who were injured at this fledgling event in 2015.”
Gelt Gladiator was held in 2016 and this year without injury or incident. Major changes had been made and the “best in the business” employed to provide obstacle risk assessments.
“He was negligent in the way this (2015) event was prepared and readily acknowledges and accepts that,” added Mr Shepherd.
Judge Peter Hughes QC told James: “It is an appalling catalogue of injury that proper planning and careful supervision on the day should have prevented.
“The injuries to Cheryl Armstrong and Steven Martin could so easily have been fatal.”
The judge added: “You organised this event on a financial shoestring. You embarked on the day on a wing and a prayer.
“You knowingly cut cost at the expense of safety and that aggravates the seriousness of the case, along with the failure to take prompt action to close down the Mud Bomb, thereby unnecessarily exposing competitors to injury.”
James, of Knowe Road, Stanwix, Carlisle, must complete 250 hours’ unpaid work, observe a 15-week night-time curfew and pay £20,000 costs.
James posted a statement after the court case on the Gelt Gladiator Facebook page. He said: “I accepted full responsibility for this at the earliest possible stage and would like to sincerely apologise to those who were injured as a result of the safety shortfalls.
“Since 2015 we have made significant safety improvements that has seen 5,000 runners and 500-plus teams take part with no further injuries occurring.
“We put safety first and use the very best safety specialists to ensure the event is safe yet fun.”