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Forgotten victim of Dreamworld tragedy is still waiting for justice

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Ebony Turner was just 12 years old when she watched her mother and two uncles die on a Dreamworld ride. Four years on, her family are still fighting a lawsuit against the owners of the theme park, and have called on the company to strike a deal out of court to “let her get on with life”.

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Ebony’s grandfather, Shayne Goodchild, said the disaster had shattered her family, but they had done all they could to shield the now 16-year-old from national attention.

Now, four years on, he said frustration at a legal impasse had forced them to speak out.

Ebony’s family say Dreamworld owners Ardent Leisure is holding out on a compensation payout over a legal technicality that measures the impact of the trauma Ebony has suffered.

Goodchild said they were now calling on the ASX-listed corporation to strike a deal out of court to lighten Ebony’s emotional burden and “let her get on with life”.

“Eb was only 12 when this horrific accident happened,” he said. “For a young girl that had everything, she’s just missed out on so much now.”

Ardent Leisure — which acknowledged the suffering caused by the accident — said the majority of claims had been settled and it would “respectfully address” outstanding cases.

But Ebony is still waiting.

Grandfather says Ardent ‘put dollars before safety

Ebony’s mother Kate Goodchild, her uncle Luke Dorsett and his partner Roozi Araghi, and another woman, Cindy Low, were killed when their raft on the Thunder River Rapids Ride collided with an empty raft and flipped on October 25, 2016.

Ebony was also on the raft, but was physically uninjured.

A coronial inquest into the four deaths made findings of a series of failures at the park, including safety and maintenance systems that the coroner described as “rudimentary at best” and “frighteningly unsophisticated”.

Goodchild — the father of Kate Goodchild and Dorsett — sat through the inquest “listening to how Ardent cut corners and put the dollars before safety on all their rides”. “They could have done a lot more to prevent that accident happening and they chose not to,” he said.

Dreamworld’s parent company, Ardent Leisure, last month pleaded guilty to three charges of failing to comply with health and safety laws.

The maximum penalty for each breach is $1.5 million — $4.5 million in total.

A formal arraignment will take place next month.

“It has taken four years for them to own that they caused the tragedy that took the lives of four people,” Goodchild said, adding that since the accident his family “hasn’t been the same”.

“Before the accident everybody was happy. It was a real happy family, and once the accident happened … nothing has been the same since,” he said. “The love is still there but it’s just not the same without Kate and Luke and Roozi.”

Goodchild said Ebony grew up surrounded by loving parents and uncles, and enjoyed playing sport and attending music concerts, before the accident changed everything.

“Before the accident Eb was probably one of the luckiest kids going,” Goodchild said. “Her life just isn’t the way it used to be. “Those three people loved her a lot, and she’s never going to get that back.”

‘Let her get on with her life’

Ardent Leisure is facing a slew of compensation claims, including a class action by shareholders and individual claims by witnesses, staff, and emergency first responders.

Ebony’s claim is one of the unresolved matters, despite the company settling lawsuits with the rest of her family.

The sticking point for Ebony’s case is the level of trauma she suffered as a result of witnessing the deaths of her mother and uncles.

The company’s lawyers insist she should again be assessed by their doctors, but Ebony’s family say the constant evaluations and delay in settling the case has only prolonged the pain.

Goodchild said the company had not learnt its lesson from the accident, and was still putting money before people.

“She’s a young girl that’s not going to talk to anybody anyway because she doesn’t talk to us, let alone somebody she doesn’t know,” Goodchild said.

“I can’t imagine what she’s going through and still going through — numerous psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, the lot. She must be over it all. “So I think the best idea is just for Ardent to stop putting us through all the pain and misery and just settle the case and let her get on with life.”

In a statement, Ardent Leisure said the majority of the families and first responders impacted had been compensated through private agreed settlements.

“Some other claims are ongoing or have yet to be commenced. Ardent Leisure will respectfully address those claims when they are made,” the statement said.

“Given the confidential nature of these arrangements [we] do not wish to make any comment.

“Ardent Leisure acknowledges the loss and suffering experienced by many from this tragedy.”

Ardent Leisure receives $70m coronavirus loan

In August, Ardent Leisure announced the Queensland Government would loan it about $70 million to keep its Gold Coast theme parks operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company said the financial package included a secured loan of $66.9 million and a grant of $3 million.

The news angered Goodchild, who accused the Queensland Government of hypocrisy.

“Here’s the Queensland Government giving Ardent a $70 million loan and they’re going to face a penalty of $4.5 million maximum for killing four people,” he said.

“I don’t know why the Government would give them money in one hand and then ask for money back for killing somebody or taking the lives.

“I just think that’s a bit hypocritical.”

– ABC / Exclusive by Michael Inman

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