Ottery Tar Barrel safety record "better than ever" claim.

HEALTH and safety measures at last week s Tar Barrel contest - watched by 20,000 people - were better than ever, says Graham Rowland, chairman of Ottery St Mary Carnival Committee.

HEALTH and safety measures at last week's Tar Barrel contest - watched by 20,000 people - were better than ever, says Graham Rowland, chairman of Ottery St Mary Carnival Committee.

"This year we had, on the planning side, monthly meetings up to September and weekly meetings from September of our committee of 54 and our number one priority is health and safety," he told the Herald.

Separate liaison meetings between all agencies, such as police, fire and ambulance services, St John Ambulance and Devon County Council, took place six times this year, he added.

"We had to re-write a 33-page contingency plan and had rendezvous points in case of mass evacuation and nominated places as helipads.

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"We had extra marshals this year who were on the periphery and stewards who were in close proximity.

"I and four other people were carrying radios this year and the president was in the control room all night."

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But, said Mr Rowland, no amount of precautions could prevent the incident that left people burnt and injured "by an irresponsible idiot."

He said: "People know what tar barrels is about. No-one comes here blindfolded, either they have seen it in the Press or people talk about it. If they don't like it on the day they go.

"I would like to see 200 people here rather than 20,000. It doesn't bring revenue to the carnival, but to the town. A lot of people make money out of it. If there were lesser numbers it would make our life easier and safer.

"Tar Barrels has got a national and international reputation and people come from all over the country and we get a lot of headaches.

"If you look back at our track record with that amount of people coming, because of fire and people together, it is good.

"We continually improve health and safety measures every year. We meet with multi-agencies and will do our utmost to put them (measures) in place."

Asked what would happen to Tar Barrels 2010, Mr Rowland said: "We are going on as if everything is normal and still doing fund-raising, bingo, disco and jumble sale to make money and approach an insurance company in July or August."

He refused to comment on claims made by a West Hill man that his wife had been left brain damaged after being struck on the head by a flaming tar barrel in 2005.

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