Engineer says he was not responsible for death of Whitley Bay pensioner

AN engineer facing health and safety charges has denied leaving a lift door unlocked and allowing a pensioner to fall to her death.

Paul Thompson and (inset) Elizabeth Young
Paul Thompson and (inset) Elizabeth Young

AN engineer facing health and safety charges has denied leaving a lift door unlocked and allowing a pensioner to fall to her death.

Elizabeth Young, 92, suffered fatal injuries when she plunged 10ft down a lift shaft at Heathdale Care Home, Whitley Bay, in September 2010.

Paul Thompson, 60, and his employers Derwent Life Services have denied to a total of five health and safety breaches.

Thompson, who had worked in the industry for 42 years, was called to the home on Saturday, September 18, two days before the accident, to repair the lift which had broken down on the second floor.

The prosecution say that during that visit, he visited the second floor and left the door unlocked.

Susan Hirst, prosecuting, said: “I suggest to you that you went upstairs and unlocked the door and let it swing shut behind you.”

The door needed to be manually locked with a key to secure it.

But taking the stand yesterday at Newcastle Crown Court, Thompson, of Hayleazes Road, Denton Burn, Newcastle, denied her claims.

He said: “I had no need to go to the second floor.”

Thompson told the court the problem with the lift was due to a mechanical part known as the retiring ramp, which had burnt out due to a fault with the lift car door. He was able to carry out repairs from the ground and first floors.

He told staff he would not be able to get the part for a few days and made sure the lift was out of service, disconnecting fuses with an electrician.

Referring to Thompson’s 42 years’ experience, Mark Balysz, defending, said: “Can I suggest to you that it is ingrained in you that you would shut and check every door?”

“Yes,” answered Thompson.

Two days later, on September 20, Mrs Young, who had dementia and walked with a Zimmer frame, was found lying on top of the lift that was somewhere between the ground and first floor. She died of her injuries.

Miss Hirst said Thompson and Colin Gurnhill, managing director of Anfield Plain-based Derwent Lift Services, then returned to the lift in the days after the incident and tried to carry out repairs to the second-floor lift door, even though they knew that an investigation had started.

The court also heard how Thompson, who had worked for the company since 1993 until last week, had only had one formal training session and had never been formally assessed.

The rest took place in informal “tool talks” with Mr Gurnhill and colleagues.

Miss Hirst said: “Isn’t it the case that the sum of the training you ever had was a few toolbox talks?

“These were just chats with the lads after work. Health and safety wasn’t a priority, was it?”

But Thompson said that although some of the talks were just chit chat, specific things like health and safety and new parts were also discussed.

“We didn’t talk a lot about health and safety, but if something came up we would discuss it,” he said.

The case continues.

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