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April 25, 2012

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Warwick Castle operator fined £350,000 in moat-death trial

The death of a grandfather, who fell from a bridge at Warwick Castle and landed in a dry moat, has cost the heritage site’s operator nearly £500,000 in fines and costs.

Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd, which runs the castle, was convicted yesterday (24 April) of failing to protect the health and safety of visitors, following a seven-day trial.

The company, which was found guilty by a jury at a Crown Court hearing at Warwickshire Justice Centre, in Leamington Spa, was fined £300,000 for a breach of s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 and £50,000 for a breach of the MHSWR 1999. It was also ordered to pay costs of £145,000. The company is considering what action to take following the outcome of the trial.

The court heard that George Townley was visiting the castle on 9 December 2007. He left the castle courtyard at about 4.30pm and proceeded to walk across the Bear and Clarence Bridge, which is one of only two routes that cross the dry moat into and out of the building.

The bridge, which is about 10ft 6in wide and 45ft long, has parapet walls that are only 15 inches in height. As he was crossing the bridge, Mr Townley stumbled and toppled over the side, falling about 14 feet into the dry moat below. He suffered fatal head injuries.

The bridge had been identified as a hazard in a public-entertainment licence condition in 1995, and again in 2003, as part of a fabric-survey risk assessment. But the court heard that Merlin failed to pass this information to relevant managers at Warwick Castle, including the health and safety officer. The company failed to act on these warnings and only undertook a site-specific risk assessment of the bridge on the day after the fatal incident.

Summing up, the judge remarked that the failure was “a blind spot in the management system”.

Following the trial, Rob Chapleo, an environmental health officer at Warwick District Council, which prosecuted Merlin, said the absence of a suitable risk assessment was key, as the drop from the bridge to the moat was not obvious to a casual observer. He pointed out that the firm had been made aware that there was a risk of falling from the bridge on two separate occasions before the incident.

He added: “Mr Townley’s accident was foreseeable and would not have occurred if Merlin had undertaken a ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessment, which, in the Council’s view, would have identified the need to provide barriers to the sides of the bridge. These would have prevented people falling into the moat.

“I hope that this successful prosecution will draw the attention of the operators of sites open to the public to the need to undertake proper risk assessments and implement the measures necessary to protect visitor safety.”

In a statement, Merlin said it would be reviewing the findings of the case before deciding what course of action to take. It said: “Our whole business culture is based on providing a safe and enjoyable day out for all our visitors, and we take that responsibility very seriously. We employ the highest possible standards, and have stringent and robust risk analysis and health and safety procedures in place across our business.”

The operator also highlighted that since 1978, more than 20 million people have visited the castle without a single reported accident, near miss, or complaint.

Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd is part of Merlin Entertainments Group (MEG), which describes itself as the number-one visitor-attraction operator in Europe and number two in the world, behind the Disney Corporation.

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Tim
Tim

Should we write to LUL and Railtrack warning them that the platform edge on underground & mainline platforms is unguarded and that not only is it a potential risk but that many people have fallen off the platforms in the past and been injured or killed? It’s not that difficult to install rails with gates at the door positions on the platforms is it?
Perhaps then, having been warned, the next time someone falls off, they will be fined a similar amount.
The law should be applied consistently!

Lsutcliffe
Lsutcliffe

The last two posts have got this right. The words are ‘reasonably practicable’.
What is the price of a discreet handrail (to a successful business) compared to that of a human life?
I went to this castle last year and I believe there to be two similar bridges. One of the bridges hosts ‘the raising of the portcullis’ and a lot of people (mostly elderly) were stood on the bridge at the same time for this event. The risk of a fall was foreseeable.

Kirkmcarter
Kirkmcarter

34 years without an accident, near miss or complaint? All that suggests is that they don’t record or report. The tragedy is that if the moat had been filled it may have saved his life. But it was probably drained for “Health & Safety” reasons.

Kenpatrick
Kenpatrick

There is no need to be cheeky! This is a £350,000 fine for a breach of H&S at work regulations. But look at this case and many like it where companies cause death when the controls are obvious and they often have been warned beforehand,sometimes by the HSE.
http://www.hse.gov.uk/press/2012/rnn-sw-acryflorltd.htm?eban=rss-press-release

Kenpatrick
Kenpatrick

Mick as an HSE preofessional for 25 years i would say a £350,000 FINE is” H&S gone mad”

Kenpatrick
Kenpatrick

I wonder how many EHOs, HSE Inspectors, safety officers etc have walked over this bridge without any comment?

Jayhughes
Jayhughes

One person in 20 million, and you honestly believe that figure. rubbish, this company had no regard for this hazard and did not heed two prior warnings. line and signs do not eliminate accidents, they are caused and sadly a person lost his life, it wasnt a mere trip it was a 14 foot fall ….

Jayhughes
Jayhughes

Do the owners of this castle not have a duty of care to the 20 million people who have walked over that bridge ? This IS a forseeable risk as they expect people to be walking in that vacinity and should have controls in place to eliminate the hazard of falling. 15 inch wall will not stop someone falling over a 14ft drop causing a fatality. Elf and Safety gone mad ……. get a grip, i would be looking into the safety culture, this mans family needs answers

Ian
Ian

I have seen a report that when the castle stages special events, the local Fire and Rescue Service insist that temporary handrails are installed on this bridge. The report included a picture, showing a scaffolding construction – hardly in keeping with the surroundings but no doubt effective.

How much simpler, and cheaper, it would have been to install permanent rails, plus the man you still be alive.

Hollyamber
Hollyamber

I extend my sympathy to the family.
This bridge had been there for many hundreds of years and I am sure it has seen many thousands of people cross it; and no doubt hundreds of deaths from falls from marauding invaders. I would welcome a debate on whether it is right to make material alterations to historic landmarks in the name of safety – the bridge appears very wide the edges clearly defined obviously I am not party to all the details but where do you draw the line?

Mark
Mark

“would have identified the need to provide barriers to the sides of the bridge” Why is it that H&S appears to have the right to desicrate important historical structures with ugly barriers just in case 1 person in 20 million happens to have an accident? Would it not be more sensible to paint lines on the modern walking surface to guide people towards the centre of the bridge with a suitable sign at each end advising people that walking at the edge puts them at risk of falling?

Mschilling
Mschilling

I cannot believe that anyone could see this event as an example of H&S gone mad. I honestly hope those comments were not from H&S professionals, or we are royally…
Would these people still hold the same opinion if the walls at the top of the tower were the height of those at the sides of the bridge?
Wake up and think about what you are saying!
Look at the WAH regs and remove the height, like the previous person says, infill the moat and its sorted. Do nothing and a bloke has lost his life

Thespudman_One
Thespudman_One

Surely this is another case of Elf and Safety gone flippin mad. No accididents since 1978 with over 20 million people. It’s an castle – trips hazards are expected. The castle has been there over 900 years. Why suddenly do they need to erect barriers??? I agree that their should have been a risk assessment in place and perhaps a few small warning signs would have been appropriate, but BARRIERS???? What next – goggles and masks in case of dust?!?

Grrr – Rant Over!!!

Steve
Steve

I’ve been to this castle. I seem to remember that the original bridge was a ‘draw bridge’.
These two bridges may have been added to allow 20 million ‘paying visitors’ to invade the castle. With all the proceeds from the invaders, a few ton of good building stone and a few weeks work for the local stone mason could have added to the height of these walls, making them safe without the need for barriers and thus saving a life. What do think ?

Smith
Smith

Foreseeable incident. 20m visitors, no accidents or even complaints – sounds like blinkers are used. The problem is that any solution should be sympathetic to the setting. Can the 14 ft drop be reduced by putting a localised structure in the moat?

Sallyanne
Sallyanne

While I have much sympathy for Mr Townley’s relatives, I do not agree with the outcome of this case. Yes, a risk assessment should have been carried out, but identifying the risk doesn’t mean that barriers should automatically be erected. This is a castle, and the reason people visit is to get a feel for what life was like in those days. Barriers would defeat the purpose! The low parapet might be a risk worth running, if only 1 in 20 million visitors have fallen over it (if this is true).

Pike
Pike

I’ve had a look on google maps and don’t have much simpathy with Merlin. A forseeable accident, highlighted 12 years before so no excuses. It’s sheer dumb luck someone hadn’t fallen before (unless they have and it wasn’t reported). An unobtrusive or tasteful barrier would have been easy and relatively cheap to install. For all those who think it’s elf and safety gone mad, if it was your grandfather would you be saying in his eulogy silly old duffer should have looked where he was going?

Paul
Paul

There are some good posts to this, however lets just be clear, soeone died for the want of a simple barrier which is installed in many other places in the castle. These barriers need not be ugly, indeed they can be made to fit the theme and age, in a few years time visitors may be asking how ornate / old they are! not realising they are new..

The main issue here was the lack of communication of the risk and how to deal with it, that lead to a preventable death. Accident will always happen !

N
N

It doesn’t matter if 20 Million or 200 Million visitors didn’t have an accident,the accident was foreseeable & preventable.The onus is quite rightly on Merlin to protect it’s customers.They should have better communication & procedures in place.I simply can’t comprehend how people can write off the life of this Grandfather;Husband;Father;Friend;Human Being as being worthless,would his life have been more valuable if he had been a toddler who died.H&S is crucial & can be discreet & appropiate.

Mschilling
Mschilling

For 25 years? Then I rest my case. We are indeed, royally…….
If it was a scaffold you would be removing the tag within seconds.
It’s small wonder the Daily Mail et al ridicule us; seemingly 45% of us are over zealous job’s worths, 45% of us are slack and fail to protect anyone and the 10% remainder are battling to gain any credibility in the crazy world of inconsistent H&S management. The return to engineering is indeed looking attractive….

Mschilling
Mschilling

Have a look on Google maps and use street view, there are lots of photos added, one of which shows very effective yet aesthetically pleasing barrier, obviously erected after the poor bloke fell off.
Rocket science it is not.
Its unforgivable and to say its OTT is just plain ridiculous – to see such comments from ‘us’ is vastly more damaging to our profession than recinding the celluloid film regs will ever be.

Gary
Gary

“Network Rail”, Railtrack have not been around for over 6 years!

Gary
Gary

Not with standing the rights and wrongs, £350 000 because of the company earnings it’s afordable and they know it!

Elloboda
Elloboda

Sorry i thought the report said a health and safety officer worked there as well. O sorry it does. so even just looking at it should of had him reporting it to his manager and requested to re check the risk assesment on the bridge. even signs at either end would not of stop some one falling over the edge but it better than nothing at all. if you let the puplic into your garden you have to make it safe no mater what the feature. HENRY THE EIGHT DID NOT HAVE A LOAD OF KIDS WHEN HE CROSSED.

Bob
Bob

I thought employers were supposed to remove a risk where practicable, thereafter reduce the likelyhood of occurance by adequate control?

Likelyhood of an event occuring does not mean it can be ignored AFARP applies.

Ignoring the risk has resulted in a preventable fatality. Hence the prosecution.

Just becouse others do not see the risk does not mean it does not exist?

Bob
Bob

If I put people to work on that bridge it would be deemed WAH, requiring fall protection.

Why? because there is a leading edge about the low parapet and therefore a risk of falling, which may cause serious injury or harm.

Did they owe the IP a Duty of Care? Yes.

Had an employee fell would they owe them a Duty of Care? Yes.

They were even made aware of the risk twice before, and did nothing.

Bill
Bill

There is a simple solution to this using the nets we manufacture. We could place a safe area to prevent falls, if the thought of putting a barrier up is not agreeable

Andy
Andy

Reasonableness is why netrail and others aren’t prosecuted for people falling off platforms.
1. The drop is not 14 feet
2. There is a clear marking on the platform beyond which you should not stand
3. The platform is not a thoroughfare to somewhere else unless there is a train at the platform
4. An announcement is made visually and by tannoy when a train is due to arrive usually with a cautionary message.
5. Better controls are possible, but expensive to do at every station (unreasonable)

Andy
Andy

Simple answer… fill in the moat under the bridges, make it into a gentle slope of turf.
Poeple who aren’t at the edge of the bridge can’t see the moat anyway.

Andrew
Andrew

The whole box-ticking, do-it-this-way-coz-the-regs-say-so inflexibility of vast number of H&S-types is why I left the profession and went back to engineering where you need to really assess, understand and think about risk.

1 in 20million over 20 years is 2x10E7 operations, or a ‘very big number’. If I play with some stats from R2P2; of those 20m, 51,000 succumbed to cancer, 1190 died on the roads, 160 died at work and 1 was struck by lightning.
Proportionality.

Andrew
Andrew

There’s a foreseeable risk directly related to speed everytime you get in a motor vehicle. It is also technologically possible to limit the speed of said vehicles. Why don’t we don’t that. Think of the reduction road deaths if all vehicles were limited to 17mph (the speed at which airbags are generally set to deploy) everywhere.

Disproportionate response or doing what is reasonably practicable?

Andrew
Andrew

Me for one. I’ve been taking my children (now 6&9) regularly of the last 4 years. In terms of assessing daily risk, you’re more likely to be injured travelling to the castle than at the castle.
We seem all to keen to quote legislation and ignore proportionality.

Altea69
Altea69

20 million people since 1978 without “a single reported accident, near miss, or complaint”? I do find that rather hard to believe.

Even if that were true, it doesn’t excuse the fact that MEG basically ignored the warnings and, as a result, somebody has died.

Bob
Bob

Why was it not possible to mitigate against the possibility of a person falling from this bridge?

Obviously the court, HSE and most reasonable people agree.

Cars are manufactured to minimise impact risk, speed restruictions are imposed, warning signs are erected to mitigate risks, people are deemed competent to drive through undertaking a driving test, restrictors are used on HGV`s, these are all mitigating efforts at reducing risk..

The accused did nothing that was reasonably practicable?

Bob
Bob

“Disproportionate response”?

How much is a persons life worth?

Obviously not the price of a hand rail if you adopt that stance. Reasonably practicable or not?

Ellidge
Ellidge

To Quote “The operator also highlighted that since 1978, more than 20 million people have visited the castle without a single reported accident, near miss, or complaint” This
does`nt mean there have not been any near misses,accidents or complaints. Something so simple would have prevented this unfortunate accident. Hope the other bridge is safe?

David
David

Sympathy for for the relatives.
A question, how long has the bridge had the low edging in place? and was this the original feature. I have difficulty understanding why we have not put fencing around cliff tops, an obvious risk assessment hazard, who has been prosecuted for this common place lapse. Why has the National Trust not put barriers around trees on their properties to prevent climbing another obvious risk.

Daniel
Daniel

One principal issue seems to have been missed here. When the bridge was in its original use the moat would have been full. Yes barriers may have looked ugly but falls from height have been one of the principal cause of deaths in the workplace for a number of years. Had the moat been full (Warwickshire is not subject to a hosepipe ban), a risk of drowning would (should) have been identified and suitable life-saving aids provided. It will be interesting to see if an appeal is lodged.

Bradden
Bradden

Your enquiry, although supportive of eradicating health and safety
myths, does not meet the Terms of Reference of the panel and therefore
we are unable to take it forward for the panel’s consideration.

Many thanks.

Sue Bartley
Myth Busters Challenge Panel
[email protected]

Bradden
Bradden

I sent details of this to the new H&S Myth Busters Challenge panel…

Thank-you for your enquiry to the Myth Busters Challenge Panel regarding
the incident at Warwick Castle. The local authority was the regulator
in this case. It was considered appropriate that the circumstances
surrounding this incident warranted prosecution proceedings to take
place and therefore the case has been dealt with by the courts.

Bob
Bob

If I were you I would consult RGD 2009-05 Railway Safety Principles and Guidance Part 2, prior to writing to LUL / NWR. – Refer to section 2 & 9 regarding Station Platforms and Underground Platforms

Also worth a look is, CSM (Common Safety Method) on R.A. and Evaluation (stunning read). Convinced me no end.

The ORR regulate LUL / NWR you need to confer with them for an explanation on the requirement of platform screens.

Best off luck with that.

Bob
Bob

I see no reason not too if you see fit, after all they use protection about train pits in depot work sheds.

I imagine the end user will pay for the improvements though.

By the way the jubilee line has these installed on platforms deemed at significant overcroading risk.

The issue of proportionality between LUL/NWR and others is a legal conumdrum.

Why permit overcrowding on any public transport? Why not walk everywhere, perhaps make pavements oneway to limit impact risk, etc, etc?

Bob
Bob

Your assesment of a breach of HSW Act sounds rather contrite, the fine imposed was for a preventable fatality, of which they were made aware of on TWO separate occassions.

They state that they had “stringent and robust risk analysis “?

I beg to differ?

What do you propose would be an appropriate level of fine given the aggarvating factors indicated herein?

I applaud the court for laying down such a marker, maybe others will adjudged with such severity for similar failure in the future.

Bob
Bob

Proportionality. How practical it is for the employer to take action to deal with the problem. This is very similar to the cost-benefit analysis, which is incorporated into the definition of ‘reasonably practicable’, but there is no specific reference to the cost in terms of time and money. Nevertheless, it is implicit in the definition of what is involved in a breach of the duty of care, as the duty is on the employer to behave as a ‘reasonable man’.

Taken from CPD article dated April 2012.

Alexhoward_121
Alexhoward_121

A ‘handrail’ doen’t have to be a modern monsrtrosity – it only has to be ‘suitable, sufficent’ and ‘fit for purpose’. I’m certain that i’ve crossed many a similar structure at various castles around the country that have had medieval lookie-likie handrails,and i’ve taken no notice because they were built in the style of the castle – so lets not hear any BS excuses about ‘detracting from the original’ eh! All that is needed is a little bit of thought.
They were told – so it was foreseeable!!

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