A 52 year old man has today (Wednesday 13 September 2017) been found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter following the death of a Blofield Heath woman in 2013.
Following a joint investigation undertaken by Norfolk Constabulary, Norfolk County Council’s Trading Standards team and the Health and Safety Executive, Robert Churchyard of Turner Road, Norwich, appeared at a two week trial last year and then at a retrial this week. He will be sentenced on Monday 30 October 2017.
The company he worked for, Automated Garage Doors & Gates Ltd, of Sweet Briar Road Industrial Estate, Norwich pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to three charges under Regulation 7 of the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008. The company is also due to be sentenced on 30 October 2017.
Jill Lunn, aged 56, died at her home in Field Lane, Blofield, on the evening of Wednesday 17 April 2013, when she became trapped under an electronically powered gate that had come off its rails and fallen on top of her.
The gate had been fitted by Churchyard on behalf of Automated Garage Doors & Gates Ltd at the beginning of March 2013. Jill had been shown how to operate the gate but on several occasions it had failed to work in its electrically powered mode because the optical safety device fitted had come out of alignment, disabling the electric drive.
On 17 April 2013, Jill had driven to the front of the house through the gate which failed to close behind her. She then attempted to close the gate manually but, because Churchyard had not fitted a stop to keep it on the rails, it fell over, trapping her underneath and causing fatal injuries. It later took three people to lift the gate off Jill.
Enquiries revealed that Churchyard had visited Jill’s home and surveyed the site. He had agreed with her and her family that the gate would be an electric metal sliding gate for the driveway, to maximize the car parking area at the front of the house. However, he did not leave an instruction book or operating manual for the gate with the family.
When the gate failed for the first time on 22 March 2013, it had to be opened manually and when Churchyard visited a few days later he told the family there was a problem with the optical electronic safety devices and he re-aligned them. The gates then failed again on the day of her death.
When questioned by officers following Jill’s death, Churchyard claimed that when he had first fitted the gates he had also fitted a stop/bracket to the rail to prevent the gate falling off it. He further claimed that the family had questioned the requirement for the stop and accused them of removing one he had fitted. Investigators could not find any evidence to support Churchyard’s claims of either the stop being part of the gate or that the family had ever discussed this with him. Churchyard’s failure to fit the stop meant he breached his duty of care to the family and this breach of duty caused Jill’s death.
The investigation into Jill’s death revealed that the company Mr Churchyard worked for had manufactured and installed an unsafe machine i.e, the automated gate. They failed to provide any safety mechanism to prevent the gate from falling and a simple ‘shoe’ stop, or bracket installed at the end of the track for the gate to slide into would have prevented this incident.
A complete technical file, which demonstrates how the machine meets the necessary safety standards, had not been produced as part of the installation process. As well as a legal requirement, generating the file would have identified the safety deficiencies in the installation.
Detective Sergeant Darren Reade from Great Yarmouth CID, who conducted the police investigation, welcomed the conviction saying: “Jill’s death should never have happened. If Churchyard had undertaken all the safety work expected of him then she would have been protected from the gate breaking in such a way. By claiming that the family themselves had removed the stop he lied about fitting he caused further distress to her family. I hope that this trial and outcome prevents a similar tragedy from happening in the future. ”
Health and Safety Executive Inspector Edward Crick said: “This case is a stark demonstration of what happens when companies do not comply with the relevant legislation relating to the safety of machinery. The industry must learn from the tragic death of Jill Lunn so no other family suffers the same loss. There is plenty of guidance available to help businesses ensure they put in place the basic safeguards and provide their customers with the necessary information to operate them safely.”
Norfolk County Council Trading Standards’ Business, Food and Farming Manager, Jon Peddle, said: ” The failings in this case had tragic consequences for Mrs Lunn and her family. We welcome this decision and hope this sends a clear message to similar businesses. The evidence given showed a distinct lack of care for the customer and the failure to carry out appropriate checks from design to installation proved that the death of Mrs Lunn was completely avoidable. Norfolk County Council Trading Standards will continue to pursue cases such as this in order to protect the public.”