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NEGLIGENCE PROSECUTION OVER NORWICH GRANDMOTHERS DEATH IN IRON GATE ACCIDENT
- Jill Lunn had a heart attack while underneath the third-of-a-tonne gate
- The 56-year-old was pulling the automatic gate, which were not working
- Prosecutors at Norwich Crown Court say there was no safety-stop device
- Robert Churchyard denies manslaughter by gross negligence
- His then-employers have already admitted breaching safety regulations
Norwich Crown Court heard how the tragedy, on April 17, 2013, happened just over a month after the gate was installed.
The automatic gate failed to operate properly on March 22 and a few days later gate fitter Robert Churchyard, 51, was called to the house to fix it.
The experienced gate fitter, who had been in the job for 20 years, denies charges of manslaughter by gross negligence and of an employee breaching general duty at work.
Prosecutor Andrew Jackson said: “Mrs Jill Lunn, who had lived at the house with her daughter and son-in-law, arrived home in her car. She had been out with to pick up her grandchild. When she drove onto the driveway the gate was already open. She drove through onto the driveway leaving the small grandchild in her car. She tried to get the gate to close automatically but it wouldn't work automatically and so she over-rode the automatic mechanism on the motor so that she closed it manually. Having done that, overriding the motor, she began to pull that heavy iron gate closed along its track. It gathered momentum on the track, she pulled and pushed it and tragically we see as the gate closed to its full extent it fell”.
“Tragically that third of a tonne gate fell directly upon Mrs Lunn and it crushed her to death. That tragedy, the prosecution say, could have been prevented by means of simple stop devices attached to the gate or track upon which it ran.’”
The jury of eight women and four men heard how Mrs Lunn lived in the small annexe of her daughter Jayne Shannon's home, in Blofield Heath, East Norfolk. They were shown CCTV footage showing Mrs Lunn pulling the large gate shut across a large paved driveway, surrounded by high brick walls.
It was a single gate which was designed to appear as two gates and covered a space of three and a half metres (12ft) - costing the Shannon's more than £10,300 after finding a company online. The footage, taken shortly after 6.30pm, cut away just as the black iron gate started to fall. Mrs Lunn died of a heart attack after being crushed by the weight of the gate and was discovered by a passer by, the court heard on Monday.
Mr Jackson added: “Mrs Jill Lunn was crushed beneath the weight of that gate. 'She suffered a heart attack in that episode and tragically and sadly she died beneath that gate. She was effectively crushed to death.”
He added: “It was a few minutes later that a passerby raised the alarm and the ambulance attended but it was too late to save her life.”
Mrs Lunn's son-in-law, Christopher Shannon, had travelled to Devon for work with his wife Jayne on the day she died. The grandmother had been collecting their daughter Ava from school shortly before the tragedy.
Mr Shannon added: ” I think we left instructions for Jill not to touch the gate and we would sort it out when we returned.”
The prosecution say there is no evidence in the trial to state that there was anything wrong with the gate itself.
Mr Jackson added: “This defendant Robert Churchyard - a fitter with many years experience - it was he who obtained all the necessary parts of the gate and it was he who fitted the gate. However he failed, we say, to fit any stops to the gate and on the track upon which it ran to prevent or from coming off its track when it was operated manually. That meant that when the gate was operated manually the third-of-a-tonne iron gate was wholly unstable.’”
The court heard how when the gate was closed manually there were no safety features to hold it in place. Mr Jackson said it became clear within a few days of the purchase that the automated opening and closing system was not functioning correctly. On March 26, Churchyard was called out to fix the automatic mechanism on the gate and he left after 13 minutes when it appeared to be working again.
The court heard how there was no danger when the gate was used automatically, but became 'dangerous' when operated manually. On the morning on the day Mrs Lunn died she had reversed into one side of the gate post, clipping her wing mirror and bending it backwards in the process. The prosecution say that damaged the optical sensors which were attached to the post and the gate remained open when Mrs Lunn left the property.
Mr Jackson added: 'What it meant from that day onwards was that gate was not going to operate automatically.
“As the person who had fitted the gate Robert Churchyard offered a duty of care to those who live at Willow House to ensure their safety. He breached that duty of care by failing to fit even the most basic of simple buffer stops.”
Mr Jackson added: “Fitting stops to the gate on the tracks was a matter of pure common sense for any experienced fitter.”
Churchyard, of Norwich, Norfolk, was an employee of Norwich based company Automated Garage Doors & Gates Ltd at the time of the incident. The court heard how he claimed in a police interview that he had fitted a temporary bracket to align the lengths of the track while it set in concrete. But the prosecution say there were no signs that such a bracket had been fitted.
Churchyard pleaded not guilty in January this year and on Monday he appeared wearing black glasses, brown shoes, a dark grey suit with a white shirt and blue tie and has greyish short hair.
Automated Garage Doors & Gates Ltd, based in Norwich, Norfolk, previously pleaded guilty to offences in relation to the death of Mrs Lunn. The company admitted three counts of failing to comply with a requirement under the Supply of Machinery (Safety) regulations.
The trial, which is due to last two weeks, continues in front of Judge Anthony Bate.
Read article in the Daily Mail