Last Updated: Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Inquest In Australia: The Final Report Of The Inquest Into The Death of Jessica Michalik
Updated: Wednesday, December 04, 2002

George Michalik at the memorial for his daughter Jessica. Photo: Courtesy Venue & Event Management Services Pty Ltd c 2002.

Spanning one year, the Inquest into the Death of Jessica Michalik headed by Deputy Coroner Jacqueline M. Milledge came to an end in November. Ms. Michalik, 15, was critically injured on January 26, 2001 and died several days later, victim of a festival seating/mosh crowd crush at Australia’s Big Day Out festival in Sydney. Many concertgoers were also injured.

The tragedy shocked Australians. And to their credit and through the untiring energy of the young girl’s father, George, an official inquest was commissioned to sort out the disaster and find a way to prevent a recurrence. Denmark had responded in a similar fashion after the 2000 crowd crush catastrophe at the Roskilde Festival.

In many ways, the inquest was an amazing event for those who followed it. So much attention was placed on the death of one young teenager—as it should be—and so much concern was displayed by the government for the welfare of other young people at concerts. From the court bench the determination and no-nonsense style of Deputy Coroner Milledge prevented the investigation from degenerating into a farce of finger pointing, chicanery, and disinformation. She was tested many times.

Crowd Management Strategies/Crowdsafe.com is pleased to present here what we think is the best review and analysis of the inquest proceedings that has yet to be printed. "Findings and Recommendations by the Coronial Inquest into the Death of Jessica Michalik" by Ian Weir of Sydney-based Venue and Event Management Services is a view of the inquest from inside the courtroom by an expert in crowd and venue management. Equally important, Mr. Weir read all court transcripts and upon request contributed his professional expertise to officials. At the inquest’s end, George Michalik said of Mr. Weir in a document submitted to Deputy Coroner Milledge, "I know at least one capable and devoted…crowd safety venue/event manager: Mr. Ian Weir."

The final report authored by Deputy Coroner Milledge is an impressive work with more than its share of sound judgment, integrity and problem solving recommendations. Her report is also another sign that the idea of concert crowd safety standards for music fans are taking root around the world. (Nevertheless, the Australian concert industry may try to stop effective safety standards from developing.)

The deputy coroner’s 28-page report also proved many of Crowd Management Strategies’ viewpoints expressed in the News & Views series Inquest in Australia to be accurate when it came to the roles of the band Limp Bizkit, promoter Creative Entertainment, concert security firm Australian Events Protection and crowd management and emergency plans.

As good as the inquest report is, it is not without flaws. The failure of Deputy Coroner Milledge to solicit her own independent expert counsel came at a cost. In Cincinnati, Roskilde and more recently Johannesburg, for example, official commissions into crowd safety disasters all drew upon the expertise of independent professionals not affiliated with parties under investigation.

Among the controversial positions taken by the deputy coroner in her report are the following:

-- The deputy coroner did not recommend a ban on crowd surfing. Crowd surfing has been among the most deadly and injurious concert activities music fans have faced for the past decade. It could be argued that crowd surfing contributed to the mayhem that helped triggered or camouflaged Jessica Michalik’s death. Many European promoters banned crowd surfing after the Roskilde Festival tragedy. Some promoters have banned it in the US.

-- The problem of festival seating mosh environments is not new as the deputy coroner suggests in her report. It is more than a decade old and responsible for many thousands of injuries. Yet, she suggests it is something of a new phenomenon.

-- The deputy coroner compliments Creative Entertainment’s 12 point crowd safety plan for this year’s Big Day Out festivals, but fails to note that a number of key points—especially the allowance for crowd surfing—proved dangerously flawed. It was banned after the first festival event. Crowd Management Strategies warned of the dangerous policy and foresaw the mayhem that developed at the festival’s start.

-- Artists, in this case Limp Bizkit, were not responsible for monitoring crowd behavior while performing, according to the deputy coroner. This is absolutely wrong. Artists have a direct relationship to audience demeanor and actions. The late Frank Zappa said it best, "There is a tendency for the artist to take advantage of the audience, to work it into a frenzy for inappropriate reasons at inappropriate times. If no damage is done, it looks like the artist has fantastic control over the audience. It's an ego boost." -- The deputy coroner did not focus on the roles of the venue operator, police and emergency medical agency. These agencies all had a part in either the planning or management of the festival where Ms. Michalik died.

-- The long history of the Big Day Out’s crowd safety problems was not explored.

-- The role of the media in hyping crowd recklessness or in crowd safety education was not explored.




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