Companies guilty of “catalogue of failings” leading to home lift disaster and little girl’s tragic death
A hearing at Bournemouth Crown Court has revealed the multitude of failures that led to the death of Alexys Brown, a five-year-old girl who suffered “horrific” injuries and tragically lost her life whilst using a faulty lift at her family home in Dorset in 2015.
Commonly known as Lexi, the disaster occurred when her older brother, a wheelchair user, asked the little girl to go upstairs to fetch his mobile phone.
As she travelled upstairs on the faulty platform lift installed in the home, Lexi put her head through a hole in the damaged Perspex door panel, resulting in her head being trapped between the lift and the ceiling.
The incident resulted in Lexi suffering head, face and neck injuries described as “horrific” by Sarah Lawson QC, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, and was pronounced dead at the scene.
The children’s grandmother who was looking after them at the time had heard the older brother, who has a neuro-degenerative disease, screaming and rushed to help but was unable to operate the lift to free her and called the emergency services.
Firefighters at the scene were forced to cut Alexys free as there was no emergency key or handle to manually free her, the court was told.
The incident has left a lasting and devastating impact on the family, with Alexys’s mother, Lorraine Brown, telling the court in an emotional victim impact statement of the older brother’s and Grandmother’s guilt and traumatisation alongside the heartache of losing her young daughter.
In the hearing, the court heard how the family had moved into the three-bedroom housing association property in 2009 because the lift – which was already installed in the property at the time – would help their disabled son.
Charges were brought against two companies, Synergy Housing Ltd (the landlord) and Orona Ltd (the company contracted to service the lift), by the Health and Safety Executive under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 following the death.
A third-party insurance company was also contracted to complete an annual inspection.
The court heard how a number of failings led to the tragic incident, with Sarah Lawson commenting: “The catalogue of failures and lack of checks made by these companies led to Alexys’ death. The injuries suffered were horrific. The lift was in an unsatisfactory condition at the time it was in use. If either the hole had not been present or there had been adequate control of the key switch at the time, this incident would not have occurred.
“The systems in place were not rigorous enough and problems with the emergency lowering system had existed since the start of the Brown family’s tenancy and had not been addressed.”
The prosecutor revealed that an inspection of the lift had been completed by an engineer three months previously who had identified the damage to the door, however, no action was taken to address it.
In addition, the lift had no key to electronically lower it in the event of an emergency, nor a handle to move it manually. The family had also not been given an instruction manual detailing how to safely operate the lift when they moved into the home.
Adding to the failings, it was revealed that the annual examination carried out by the third-party insurance company was last undertaken in 2012, with Synergy having mistakenly informed the insurer that the lift had been removed.
Orona was contracted by Synergy to service the lift every six months, however, the company had only carried out two services between 2012 and 2015. Orona told the court that it had quoted Synergy twice to replace the lift but the housing association delayed making a decision as it was exploring creating a ground floor extension on the property instead.
Both companies had pleaded guilty to a single charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act at a previous hearing and are due to be sentenced on Tuesday 15th January.
Image credit. Bournemouth Echo