Killjoy council chiefs were today branded “Christmas scrooges” after they banned SpongeBob Squarepants from turning on the festive lights – because of health and safety fears.
Hundreds of children were left in tears when officials ruled the yellow costume of the kiddie’s TV favourite was too wide to walk up five steps onto a platform.
Around 2,000 people, many families with young children, turned out to Wolverhampton’s Market Square, West Mids., last Friday night expecting to see the cartoon character switch on the Christmas lights.
Wolverhampton City Council forked out £2,000 on hiring the SpongeBob Squarepants costume but officials banned it from both the platform and the back of a float which was due to carry it around town.
The character was only allowed to walk around at ground level under the stage meaning he could only be seen by people at the front of the crowd.
Furious parents blasted the ruling – branding the council “health and safety scrooges.”
John Williamson, 45, from Wolverhampton, said his nine-year-old daughter Lola was reduced to tears after she was unable to see her idol.
He stormed: “It’s ridiculous to ban a children’s character from a Christmas lights switch on.
“You would hope the council wouldn’t be such health and safety scrooges and let the kids have a good look at their character.
“Lola had been talking about seeing Spongebob Squarepants for days but was inconsolable when she couldn’t even get a glimpse of him.”
SpongeBob Squarepants had been expected to switch on the lights alongside Corrie star Sherrie Hewson but the soap actress was forced to press the button on her own.
School girl Jessica Drew, 10, who went along with her guide group to watch the lights, said: “The fireworks were really good and we enjoyed it but we were disappointed that we didn’t see SpongeBob.
“We just thought that he hadn’t turned up because we never saw him once. There was no sign of him on stage at all.”
Yesterday the council stood by the health and safety ruling.
Mark Blackstock, outdoor events manager for the council, said: “Unfortunately, the character actor playing SpongeBob Squarepants was unable to climb the stairs on to the stage because of his costume.
“Health and safety considerations meant we were unable to lift him on to the stage using the tailgate of one of our vehicles because of the high numbers of people around the stage.
“This meant that SpongeBob Squarepants was unable to appear on stage during the event.
“As the actor could only be permitted to stay in his suit for 40 minutes at a time, again for health and safety reasons, we arranged the two 40-minute meet and greet sessions to enable the public to see him close up.
“During this time, he met as many young fans as possible at both locations, though we of course apologise to anyone who couldn’t see him on stage and was unable to meet him in person.”
It is not the first time the council has left children in tears after imposing strict rules on kiddy’s characters.
In 2010 Peppa Pig caused a stir when the person wearing the costume had to restrict meetings with youngsters over fears she would overheat in her suit.
Staff even offered to don the suit themselves after the actor said she had gone overtime, to avoid the scenes of disappointed children and parents, but were told they could not take over.
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