Six years following the tragic stage collapse at Downsview Park in June 2012 that led to the death of longtime Radiohead drum technician Scott Johnson, a coroner’s inquest into the details surround the event is moving forward. Taking place in Toronto over the next three weeks, the investigation into the circumstances will feature testimonies from witnesses including both members of the band and Johnson’s family, who have expressed in front of the court their grief over the tragedy (and preventability) of the situation.
Appearing yesterday to give their testimony on the first day of the inquest, Radiohead drummer Phil Selway memorialized Johnson as someone who was “on top of their game” before expanding on how the incident has “just had such an enormous impact on everybody who has involved,” including band and crew members: “I’ve been speaking to crew members who have worked with Radiohead that day, asking for their memories of that day and their feelings since,” Selway said, expressing that “I am pleased that this is happening now.”
As a legal inquest, the proceedings will not lead to the assigning of blame to any party, but rather the development and establishment of preventative measures toward similar incidents occurring in the future. The inquest follows a case against promoters Live Nation and scaffolding company Optex Staging regarding their responsibility for the incident, which began in 2013 but was controversially “stayed” in 2017, where charges were dropped after the proceedings took too long to come to trial.
“The system has failed Scott, his family and other industry workers,” lamented Selway yesterday in response to both Johnson’s death and the full trial not coming to fruition. These comments follow those made earlier last year, where the drummer expressed that “it’s very frustrating. The court case broke down on a technicality, so there have been no real answers. Without the answers we can’t ensure that an accident like this can’t happen again.” It’s through this inquest that the band and others close to Johnson seek to find these answers and assurance moving forward.
"There have been no real answers… Without the answers we can't ensure that an accident like this can't happen again." Radiohead drummer Philip Selway says it's "frustrating" that the court case regarding the death of their drum technician broke down #newsnight pic.twitter.com/jTnoFDJCql
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) July 18, 2018
Selway described the long-term impact of the incident on the band, stating that “the collapse has made us vulnerable where we used to feel secure.” This insecurity inspired Radiohead, in the wake of the tragedy, to readjust the design of their stage sets in a safer way and hire a tour engineer responsible for further ensuring the soundness of their performance spaces when working with third-party promoters.
The band’s appearance at the Toronto inquest follows a concert from last summer, their first in the city since Johnson’s death, where frontman Thom Yorke further condemned Live Nation and Optex: “The people who should be held accountable are still not being held accountable in your city. The silence is fucking deafening.”