Warwick Castle death trial: Bridge presented a risk to the public, says inspector

WARWICK Castle’s Bear and Clarence bridge presented a risk to the public at the time a visitor died as the result of a fall, a court has heard.

Friday, 20th April 2012, 10:16 am

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.

During the first day of the trial on Monday Daniel Mulryan, a health and safety inspector for Warwick District Council, told Warwick Crown Court how he had been called to the castle as part of a risk assessment on December 10 2007, the day after Mr Townley had fallen from the bridge and sustained fatal injuries when he landed in the dry moat below.

Mr Mulryan said the bushes and hedges on the side of the bridge where Mr Townley had fallen over the 15-inch parapet wall were “masking” the drop below.

Mr Mulryan said: “The impression exiting the castle court yard was that the bridge is at ground level.

“I didn’t think it was obvious there is a 14 or 15 foot fall along that bridge.

“I certainly had concerns a fall risk was not evident to both the officers who had inspected the castle and to members of the public.

“My view was that there was an evident fall from height risk there and there could be serious consequences if anybody fell.”

Mr Mulryan told the court he had been to the castle as a visitor before and said he had not felt unsafe when crossing the bridge but that he had not realised he was crossing the moat before.

He said: “I would have said it was a pathway of the same level not a bridge as such.”

Independent health and safety expert Martin Barnard carried out his own inspection after the accident took place.

Speaking at the court on Wednesday Mr Barnard said there was a sign to warn visitors to stand clear of the moat but not on the side of the bridge from where Mr Townley had walked before the accident.

Mr Barnard also said where there were fall from height risks at a site barriers would normally be put in place for drops of two-metres or more.

Mr Barnard said: “The risk, or chance of harm to someone, was significant to say there should have been a risk assessment done in relation to safeguarding against a fall.

“For an assessment of that kind, of the likelihood of someone falling from that height, the results should have been recorded.

“The question in my mind would have been what could have been done to prevent that fall and the answer would be to put up barriers, which I understand were put up after the accident and have been in place for four years.

“And what would have lead to those barriers being put up? A suitable and sufficient risk assessment.”

The case continues and is expected to finish next week.