Man tragically dies at TopGolf in Chigwell after being 'pushed over safety netting' in 'prank gone wrong'

Top Golf, Chigwell, where Conner Groom sadly sustained a serious spinal injury
-Credit: (Image: Google Maps)

A young Essex man tragically died after a friend pushed him from a bay in TopGolf causing him to fall 3.7 meters to the ground head first in a prank gone wrong. Conner Groom, 22, had been at a Christmas party in December 2021 at the Chigwell driving range when he tragically fell over the edge of the safety nets on the first floor.

Mr Groom, from Clacton, had travelled to the venue on December 21, 2021 and he and his friends had been drinking through the evening before arrival. After they began their session, the friends were playing pranks on each other by pushing or nudging each other to fall onto the safety nets.

Before Mr Groom was pushed by an unnamed friend, there had been seven other incidents of pushes or attempted pushes by the group. One of Mr Groom's friends ran up and pushed him, but instead of falling onto the net, Mr Groom went over the edge and fell to the ground, around 12 feet below.

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He sustained a serious spinal injury and was later taken to the Royal London Hospital. Sadly, his condition worsened and on January 25, 2022, Mr Groom died from his injures. On Thursday (May 23) at Essex Coroners' Court, an inquest was conducted into his death. Detective Inspector Lydia George shared how the police had taken statements from multiple people at the scene and reviewed the CCTV footage of the incident.

She told the inquest: "There was a large group of them including the defendant and Conner Groom. The party convened in Clacton where they are predominantly posted. They travelled to TopGolf. The group drank for a bit in the bar and then taken upstairs to bay 36-37. The height was measured at 3.7 meters or just over 12 foot. All of the CCTV shows them in good spirits and no signs of animosity.

"A number of times it shows the friends trying to push each other into the safety netting. It was plainly seen as a joke." DI George said this happened several times, and that a member of security came to speak to the group about their behaviour. The man who ended up pushing Mr Groom was not involved in the previous pushing incidents, DI George said.

She continued: "Immediately before the fatal push, [Mr Groom's friend] said he was going to push Conner into the net. It was said in a joking manner. He ran to him and pushed him. It was a two-handed push.

"Conner Groom got a foot caught in the net and fell 3.7 meters and sustained catastrophic injuries that proved fatal." DI George said a proposed cause of death following a lengthy stay in hospital for Mr Groom was a hypoxic brain injury by traumatic spinal cord injury.

DI George said the manager of the group's booths had previously warned them to stop pushing each other into the net, and they had apologised and said they "wouldn't do it again". Following his fall, the group members were reported saying to staff "you have warned us enough times".

DI George said that following the death, Essex Police consulted with the Crown Prosecution Service and Mr Groom's family about whether to take further action against his friend for the push. The court heard the police eventually chose not to pursue any charge of manslaughter as the "evidential test was not met" and that the pure intention from the push was for Mr Groom to land on the safety netting.

DI George added: "The parents of Conner Groom didn't support a prosecution of [his friend]. They believed that Conner would not have wanted to support any action over him as they are good friends." DI George said the police concluded it was a "prank that resulted in a tragic accident".

Improvements made after health and safety inspection

Graham Jarvis, a senior environmental health officer for Epping Forest Council, conducted a review into TopGolf and its safety procedures following Conner's death. He told the court that the venue had made a number of changes to its policies following the tragic incident, including updates to its signage and a more "zero tolerance" approach to those who push people into the safety nets.

Mr Jarvis said: "A new player safety manager role has been created for every UK [TopGolf] venue. The member of staff isn't there every day but is there at the times and days where they are busiest and expect the most consumption of alcohol. They are responsible for the safety management of players." Mr Jarvis added that Epping Forest Council had been satisfied with all the changes made at TopGolf and that no enforcement action had been taken against the venue.

In his conclusions, Senior Coroner Lincoln Brookes said that he was completely satisfied that there had been no intention of harm by anyone in Conner's group and that it had been his friend's full intention for him to land on the safety net. He said: "I entirely accept that due to high spirits there was nothing malicious whatsoever.

"But it's apparent that unlike the earlier incidents his friend did take a run up and charge at Mr Groom which explains that he was pushed out more forcefully than others, and rather than landing on the netting, which was what he intended and nothing more, his momentum was such that he want straight over the netting, across it and fell head first to the ground. Alcohol had severely impaired his judgement."

Coroner Brookes said the case was a "terrible tragedy" and recorded a conclusion of "misadventure" over Mr Groom's death. He expressed his condolences to his family, saying his loss had been "immeasurable" for them.