Police are investigating whether a barrier caused the death of a 20-year-old student as she queued to get into a busy nightclub.
Olivia Burt, from Hampshire, died after sustaining head injuries following an incident outside Missoula in the popular Walkergate area of Durham just before midnight on Wednesday, police said.
Missoula advertises Wednesday’s Game Over event as Durham’s biggest student night. The nightclub’s owners described the incident as a “terrible accident” and said they were working with the police.
A witness told the Northern Echo: “I was stood in the queue to get into the club. People were barging to get in. The queue had gone around the fence and as they pushed to get in, it caused the fence to fall over. The girl was trapped under the fence and crushed. There was a fair bit of panic.
“One of the security men at the nightclub ran toward her and took his shirt off to stem the bleeding from her head. She had lost consciousness and he started to give CPR and was helped by other doormen until the ambulance arrived. She sadly died.”
Pictures published by Durham University’s student website the Tab appeared to show a large queue outside the venue on Wednesday.
Jack, who queued outside Missoula for an hour before leaving, called the situation “complete chaos” and said he had seen the barriers outside the venue fall on people before. He told the Tab he and his friends “queued from 10.15pm then left an hour later”.
“We had made it to the front, but they refused to let any more people in until 12. People were trying to reason with them, telling the bouncers it wasn’t safe and that someone was going to get hurt,” he told the website. “In the end they put a barrier in front of the people at the front, who had been slowly moving forward due to being pushed from behind.
“Obviously the pushing continued regardless and suddenly the barrier fell and everyone fell on top of it. That’s when I left, as this has happened before when I’ve been in the queue and it’s really quite painful.”
Prof David Held, the master of University College, Durham, said: “The staff and students acutely feel the loss of Olivia Burt.
“Olivia arrived in Durham last autumn to begin reading natural sciences. She came to Durham with glowing references from her school, where she was regarded in the highest possible terms.
“She had an outstanding academic record and was an exceptional sportswoman. She was part of the British Sailing team in the European Championships. Olivia sailed for more than a decade, quickly finding her place in the University team. She became very active both in college life and the wider university.
“Those students close to her have lost a wonderful friend, whom in their shock they grieve for, alongside her family and friends. The college has lost a bright and outstandingly able student. It is hard to come to terms with her loss, and we will miss her greatly.”
A postmortem found that Burt died as a result of head injuries, police said. Det Supt Kevin Weir, from Durham constabulary, added: “This was a tragic incident and our thoughts are with the family and friends of Olivia during this incredibly sad time.
“A joint investigation is ongoing between ourselves and Durham county council to establish the circumstances surrounding the incident.”
On Thursday forensics officers were at the cordoned-off scene, and a blue police tent was positioned by barriers erected outside the venue. White chairs had been knocked over and debris was strewn on the ground in the bar’s outside area.
Missoula is in a busy area of bars and restaurants above the river Wear. The club’s owners said on Thursday night: “A full investigation has been launched, working with the police and the company who provide our door staff, to fully understand what led to this terrible accident.
“Until that is concluded, we are unable to comment further. Our thoughts are with the young lady’s family and friends.”
Chris Atherton, the senior high-performance manager of the Royal Yachting Association, paid tribute to Burt’s “drive, determination and good sportsmanship” as a sailor. He said: “Olivia’s passion for sailing always shone through and all those who knew her in the sailing community will miss her tremendously; she was both a likeable and fair competitor.
“Our thoughts and sympathies are with the family and friends of Olivia at this sad time.”