Wednesday September 06, 2017

Father of drum technician killed in Radiohead stage collapse says it's 'appalling' charges were stayed

Scott Johnson was working as a drum technical for Radiohead when he was killed in a stage collapse in Toronto in 2012.

Scott Johnson was working as a drum technical for Radiohead when he was killed in a stage collapse in Toronto in 2012. (Submitted by Ken Johnson)

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Story transcript

Ken Johnson says it's "totally disgusting" that Canadian court delays cut short the trial into his son's death.

"It is heartbreaking and it's just not fair," Johnson told As It Happens host Carol Off. "That's the harsh reality."

Johnson's son Scott, a 33-year-old British drum technician, was killed in 2012 when the stage collapsed at a Radiohead concert in Toronto's Downsview Park.

One year later, 13 charges were laid against entertainment company Live Nation, engineer Domenic Cugliari and contractor Optex Staging under provincial health and safety laws.

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The stage set up for a Radiohead concert at Downsview Park collapsed in 2012.

On Tuesday, five years after Scott's death, Justice Ann Nelson ruled that the case had taken too long to come to trial and had violated the rights of the people charged to a timely decision.

"No doubt, this decision will be incomprehensible to Mr. Johnson's family, who can justifiably complain that justice has not been done," Nelson said in her ruling.

'We hope they sleep well at night because, as far as we're concerned, they've let him down.' - Ken Johnson

Those words were cold comfort for Johnson, who has spent the last five years travelling back and forth to Canada in the hopes of seeing justice served.

"It is appalling that they can sit there and come out with that sort of comment, which is flippant. I don't find it caring," Johnson said.

"It's very easy to sit in that chair and pass that comment, and I hope they sleep well at night because, as far as we're concerned, they've let him down."

Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson had a passion for drumming since he was a teenager. (Ken Johnson)

Johnson's voice cracked when he described his son, who he says started drumming when he was just a teenager.

He said he would accompany Scott to his earliest drumming gigs, because he was too young to be in the venues where his band was performing. 

"He was gentle. He was loving, kind. I don't suppose you ever hear bad words about anyone who's been killed, but I assure you, you wouldn't ever hear a bad word about him," Johnson said.

"He was a generous, caring individual. He enjoyed his life. He enjoyed his music."

The Radiohead gig, Johnson said, was the highlight of his son's career.

"He was thrilled, absolutely thrilled," he said. "He worked with a lot of other bands as well, but the Radiohead tour was very special and it was ironic, I think, it was the last gig on that tour."

Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson, pictured here as a young boy, was a 'kind' and 'generous' person, his father told As It Happens. (Ken Johnson)

In the spring of this year, with the case set to wrap up after 40 trial days scattered over 14 months, the presiding judge, Shaun Nakatsuru, declared he had lost jurisdiction given his appointment to a higher court.

That decision led to a senior justice declaring a mistrial in May, and a new hearing was set to begin Monday.

However, lawyers for Live Nation and Cugliari argued before Nelson last month for a stay in light of the delays. The parties agreed her ruling would also apply to Optex.

"It is important to emphasize that timely justice is not just important to persons facing charges," Nelson said in her ruling. "It is also important to our society at large."

In 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada set a presumptive ceiling of 18 months for proceedings in provincial courts, in what's become known as the Jordan decision. Since that ruling, hundreds of cases have been tossed out of court. 

The Radiohead case — which would have taken almost five years to complete if it had gone to a second trial — would have lasted three times longer than the Jordan limit.

"I accept that the courts are very busy and I think that the law to speed up the justice is a very sensible thing, but I don't see how you can apply it retroactively," Johnson said.

"Whatever we do, whatever happens, is never going to bring Scott back, but I just don't see that this is justice, and I find it highly offensive that someone might."

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Thom Yorke of Radiohead reacts to news that charges have been stayed in 2012's stage collapse. (Twitter)

With files from Associated Press