Warwick Castle bridge death trial: castle safety officer says risk assessments ‘were carried out’

Warwick Castle.
Warwick Castle.

Health and safety officers who visited Warwick Castle just days before a man fell to his death from a bridge over the dry moat had raised no concerns about it, a jury has heard.

Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd, which runs the castle, has pleaded not guilty at Warwick Crown Court to two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The charges brought by Warwick District Council follow the death of 72-year-old George Frederick Townley from Berkswell, near Coventry, in December 2007.

Mr Townley tripped as he was crossing the Bear and Clarence bridge over the dry moat as he was leaving the castle grounds at dusk on that day.

He ‘cantilevered’ over a low wall, just 15 inches high, at the side of the bridge, causing him to fall head-first 13 to 14 feet to the ground below.

Prosecutor Barry Berlin has alleged 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.

But on Thursday 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.

They were normally carried out by representatives in the various departments at the castle and then passed to him to review, although he would carry out specific risk assessments for special events himself.

“For example the trebuchet at the castle, I wrote the risk assessment for that because it’s quite a complicated piece of equipment, and if we had a rock concert I would write the risk assessment for those as well, and for the carol concert.”

Keith Morton QC, for Merlin Attractions, asked why there had been no specific risk assessment of the Bear and Clarence bridge prior to the fatal accident.

Mr Fable said: “Because I covered that, or I felt I covered that under the towers and ramparts assessment; because I did not see a risk in terms of the Bear and Clarence bridge.

“I’ve examined that bridge many times while I worked at the castle. It is a dry moat, not a wet moat, and there is a clear parapet wall on the side of the bridge.

“The other reason is that we never had any incidents or accidents on that bridge, and nor had we had any near misses on the bridge that have been reported. I did not consider there was a hazard from that bridge.”

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’ in the Peacock Garden, and they walked into the central courtyard and back out again across the Bear and Clarence bridge.

Mr Morton asked: “Did either of them make any comment on the bridge and its safety?” Mr Fable replied: “No.”

He was asked: “Had any local inspector on any of the occasions you’ve mentioned ever raise any concerns about the bridge?” Again he replied: “No.”

And Mr Fable said a group of about 20 inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive had also visited the castle in December 2007 while in Warwick on a team-building exercise.

“I gave them a talk on health and safety at a heritage site, and I showed them around, across all the towers and ramparts and around the central courtyard, crossing the Bear and Clarence bridge.”

He said they had raised a concern with him about a maintenance engineer working outside a barrier on the ramparts, but raised no concerns about the bridge.

The trial continues.