Warwick Castle fined over Berkswell pensioner's fatal fall

27/04 Updated: 27/04 17:12

THE COMPANY which runs Warwick Castle has been ordered to pay almost £500,000 in fines and costs over health and safety breaches which led to an elderly visitor’s death.

Berkswell pensioner George Frederick Townley suffered fatal head injuries when he tripped and fell over a low wall as he crossed a bridge from the castle courtyard in December 2007.

Warwick Crown Court heard the 72-year-old had stumbled and fallen over the wall, which is just 15 inches high, and fell head-first into the dry moat.

Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd, which runs the castle, denied two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act in a prosecution brought by Warwick District Council.

But at the end of the seven-day trial the jury found the company guilty of both charges.

Judge Nigel Godsmark QC fined Merlin Attractions £350,000 and ordered it to pay £145,000 prosecutions costs.

Prosecutor Barry Berlin had said: “Mr Townley was a visitor who was going from the castle grounds at about dusk, when he simply tripped and fell from the Bear and Clarence Bridge - which is not the main entrance to the castle - and fell onto his head and suffered a fatal injury.”

He said Warwick Castle had failed to take sufficient measures to protect visitors crossing the bridge and failed to carry out an appropriate risk assessment of it.

He added the drop was not obvious and many people thought they were walking at ground level

Two young women who had left the courtyard behind him rushed to his assistance – and it was only when they reached the wall that they realised there was a 14-foot drop.

Geoffrey Fable, who was health and safety officer at the castle at the time, but has since retired, said risk assessments were carried out at the castle.

Questioned by Keith Morton QC, defending Merlin Attractions, he said he had examined the bridge many times and did not see a risk there.

He said he frequently had dealings with health and safety inspectors from Warwick District Council, who had been to the castle at least ten times between 2004 and 2010.

Five days before the accident two inspectors were visiting because the castle was staging an ‘ice trail,’ and neither of them had made any comment about the bridge.

After the verdict, Mr Morton said: “We now accept the absence of a suitable and sufficient risk assessment. Something more could and should have been done about this bridge.”

But he added while Merlin were at fault in not foreseeing the risk, they were not alone.

Rob Chapleo, Warwick District Council Environmental Health Officer said Merlin had twice been made aware there was a risk of falling from the bridge before the accident.

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.

"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."

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