The Saw rollercoaster at Thorpe Park is claimed to be the scariest ride in the world – and it has become the stuff of nightmares for one customer because while she was on it the amusement resort managed to lose her handbag, allowing someone to steal her car.
Bobby Barrett, 28, is set to be more than £2,000 out of pocket as a result of the incident. She says she has been left shocked by Thorpe Park’s claim that it cannot be held liable for her losses.
Like thousands of other visitors, Barrett was told to hand over her bag containing her valuables prior to boarding the Saw rollercoaster. Then she was given a wristband to return later in exchange for the bag.
However, having enjoyed the ride, which starts with a “beyond-vertical”, 30-metre drop, she handed back the wristband to retrieve her bag, only to be told it was not there. When it became clear that it had not simply been misplaced, things went from bad to worse.
Only later did staff agree to call the security team. By the time they arrived, 40 minutes later, her mobile phone had been switched off, so it could not be tracked, and her £3,500 Ford Ka had been stolen from the car park.
“The whole thing was a nightmare as my bag had my phone, wallet, medicine, car keys and other personal items in it. Staff initially said I would be compensated for my belongings – but that was before we realised that my car had been stolen,” says Barrett, who works in compliance testing and plays for Henley Hawks rugby club.
“Since October I have been locked in a battle to get Thorpe Park to compensate me, but they won’t do it.”
Her car was found abandoned three days later but it had been completely trashed by the thief and was declared a write-off. Also gone were three pairs of boots and all her other possessions from the car.
Thorpe Park has told the police it has no CCTV footage of the vehicle leaving the car park or of the baggage area showing her belongings being handed over or taken, she says.
It also refused to provide her with a replacement hire car. She says that after another battle, her insurer paid out £300 less than she owed on the car’s finance deal – and she had to pay the £150 excess. Living in the countryside without access to public transport has meant she has had to rely on lifts and expensive taxis for almost two months.
“You’d think they would have been doing their best to help me but it’s been the opposite,” she says.
“The person dealing with it left and didn’t pass the matter on, and I am left to constantly chase them. They even told me that my car being stolen is the same as it being stolen from a Tesco car park and that they cannot be held accountable for the actions of thieves. It is ridiculous; they gave the keys to someone. I will now see my car insurance rise hugely through no fault of my own and I have had to take a loan to buy a new car.”
After the Guardian’s intervention, Thorpe Park, which is part of the Merlin Entertainments group that made a £323m profit in 2017, offered her £500. It said it has been working closely with the police to assist them, and Barrett, in trying to resolve the problem.
“First and foremost, our terms and conditions, which are visible throughout the park, state that guests leave belongings at their own risk,” it says.
“However, on this occasion, we offered Ms Barrett compensation as a gesture of goodwill. With no further contact, we were unaware that she was dissatisfied with this offer. Should she be willing to engage directly, we would be happy to investigate the matter further.”
Jonathan Silverman, a senior consultant with the London law firm Laytons, says unfair contract terms legislation means firms cannot claim that they accept no liability, as Thorpe Park has argued. He also described the £500 offer as“derisory”.
“In the face of the evidence I have seen, I would say that this is a clear case of negligence” he says. “Thorpe Park is required to perform its service with ‘reasonable care and skill’ – and that certainly doesn’t look to be the case here.”
He advises Barrett to tot up her reasonable losses and to bring a claim in the small claims court. He says he would be surprised if Thorpe Park still refused to pay once she sent a “letter before action”.