Parents' anger at "injustice" over death of Radiohead drum technician Scott Johnson

Parents' anger at "injustice" over death of Radiohead drum technician Scott Johnson

By Michael Upton | 10/05/2019

Parents' anger at 'injustice' over death of Radiohead drum technician Scott Johnson
Scott at the Keane drumkit wearing a Killers T-shirt

THE parents of tragic Radiohead drum technician Scott Johnson spoke this week of the ongoing sense of injustice they feel over his death.

Ken and Sue Johnson were forced to wait almost seven years for an inquest after the 33-year-old died when the roof of an outdoor stage set at the band’s gig in Canada fell on him in 2012.

And the couple, who were told last year that no-one would be brought to court and held accountable over the stage collapse, said the jury’s verdict of accidental death was impossible to stomach.

“I just cannot accept that,” said Sue, previously of Whiston but now of Hickleton, Doncaster. “We just want someone to man up and admit it and say it was negligence.

“Scott was always really strong in his feelings about fairness and this outcome is anything but fair.

“We have still not got justice for Scott after all these years.”

When a three-week inquest finally got under way in Toronto in March, it was outlined from the outset that it was not intended to find fault.

Promoter Live Nation, the scaffolding firm in charge of building the stage and the engineer who signed off faulty plans used in the project were all charged over the accident, which happened minutes before Radiohead were due on stage for a sound check.

But court proceedings stalled after legal delays and technicalities, including the trial judge quitting the case after being promoted to a higher court.

“The jury were told they were not allowed to say it was negligence,” said Ken. “So many blatant errors were highlighted.

“You wouldn’t think something like this would happen in Canada but there were all sorts of gaps in working practices.”

Ken, who runs a scaffolding company himself, said the inquest had been told of numerous “schoolboy errors” in the stage construction — including the plans requiring parts that did not exist and sections being fitted without enough holding clamps.

When part of the backdrop fell six inches, it was put down to “settlement” and nobody was sent to check the state of the structure, he said.

The inquest also heard the scaffolders used were unqualified sub-contractors who worked up to an 18-hour day.

“The use of sub-contracted labour that is not qualified is diabolical,” said Ken.

“They ran out of clamps and the scaffolder decided he did not have the time to get any more so, at one point, he used two instead of four.”

At its conclusion, the jury issued a string of recommendations aimed at improving safety standards in the live events industry and the wider scaffolding sector and Ken was asked to join a panel promoting these changes.

Ken said he feared a similar tragedy could happen here as unqualified, untrained labour was often used.

He has helped to form a new charity called No Falls, which is pushing for improved safety in the UK scaffolding industry and has called on Radiohead’s MP Ed Vaizey and Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband to support lobbying to parliament.

“The only thing I can do is hope to improve things for the future,” said Ken.“Sometimes that’s not enough but it’s all I can do.”

Sue added: “I still feel so angry about what happened.

“Hopefully these recommendations will help future tragedies be avoided but it does not bring my Scott back or give us justice.

“If someone had rung and admitted they’d made a mistake and said sorry that would have been some comfort but instead it’s given us seven years of torment.”

Scott — named after American singer Scott Walker — grew up in Whiston and attended Brinsworth Comprehensive.

He began learning the viola and guitar before taking up the drums and performing with Rotherham Schools Orchestra.

“He wanted a drum kit from the age of three and eventually we got one and stuffed it with paper to dull the sound,” said Ken.

Sue added: “If only it had been as easy to get him to do his school work as it was to get him to practise.”

Diehard Pearl Jam fan Scott worked at Doncaster’s Electro Music shop, nurturing his passion for instruments of all ages and brands.

Scott first went on tour with Longview and went on to work with the likes of Robyn, the Australian Pink Floyd Experience, the Killers and the White Stripes.

He spent seven years with Keane, whose drummer Richard Hughes gave his son Austin the middle name Scott, before working with Radiohead’s Phil Selway in the studio and on tour.

Sue said she and Ken were grateful for the rock stars’ support since the tragedy, which had shaken them all and prompted Radiohead to employ their own dedicated stage engineer.

Despite touring the world, Scott remained grounded, said Sue.

“Nothing fazed him and he just saw it as a job,” he added. “He was a real joker and so kind. 

“He dropped by for a cup of tea once and said he was on his way to buy a microwave for a friend whose had broken down. 

“He did that without a thought. It’s just the kind of person he was.”

Scott’s love of the drums lives on through the Scott Johnson Bursary.

Made up of donations in lieu of funeral flowers, the funeral collection, proceeds from the sale of a memorial bench and the sale receipts from a collectable Keane CD, the fund was used to buy 20 drum kits which have been made available to would-be musicians.