School fined after visitor trips, falls and dies
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A school has been told to pay £63,000 after its health and safety failings led to the death of a 76-year-old visitor.
Vera Stanton fell and hit her head when she tripped over a low wall during an evening visit to the Great Hall at The Leys School, Cambridge.
The area where was so poorly lit that Mrs Stanton’s daughter also tripped over the wall as she went to the aid of her mother.
And the first staff member on the scene had to use the torch function of a mobile phone.
Mrs Stanton, who had been wearing dark glasses due to a sight condition, died in hospital six days after the incident happened on February 17, 2017.
The co-educational day and boarding school in Fen Causeway pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety requirements when it appeared at Peterborough Magistrates’ Court last December.
Sentencing was adjourned to March 31
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Gordon Menzies, prosecuting, said the wall, which was three bricks, high was alongside a path and an access ramp to the Queen’s Building.
He described how visitors at night emerge into an area where the lit Great Hall can be seen in the distance and the wall stands in what would be a straight line for people to take to the hall.
He told the court: “As part of its investigation, the school took some photographs at night which show how the wall was in shadow from the hedge.
“You can see the contrast between the bright lights of the Great Hall in the background
“The prosecution’s case is that this presented a foreseeable risk of injury. Indeed, it was a risk that was not only foreseeable but foreseen.”
Mr Menzies described how a security assistant who carried out the school’s initial investigation said there was “great temptation to be startled by the Great Hall lights then to look where one is going”.
The school employee said: “I have seen people - particularly old or disabled people - be startled by the lights.”
Mr Menzies said the school’s risk assessments had not properly considered activities outside the school’s normal operation and 11 areas had later been identified as having insufficient lighting.
Mrs Stanton’s daughter Rachel Lawson said in a statement: “My mum was so full of life and her death was such a shock to us all. I feel her death was so needless. She worked so hard in her life.”
Referring to the improvements made after the incident, she added: “I’m furious to think these things should have been there in the first place.”
Prashant Popat QC, mitigating, insisted that the school was not aware that the area had posed a risk and had it done so it would have acted accordingly.
Shortly after the incident the school, which is a charity, made improvements totalling £45,000 across its site.
He said this had gone “above and beyond” the requirements of an improvement notice from the Health and Safety Executive, a claim later disputed by the prosecution.
Mr Popat said the wall had been in place since a landscaping project in 2013, adding: “Nobody in the design or construction team identified the wall or the lighting as a risk.
“The path had been used thousands of times by thousands of people without a single report of a significant incident or problem which had been found.”
Mrs Stanton’s tragic trip had, Mr Popat said, been caused by a number of factors coming together including that she was “entirely properly” wearing prescription sunglasses due to her visibility issues and the group was walking at “a little pace”.
“None of that is said in anyway whatsoever to blame Mrs Stanton – she is entirely blameless,” he added.
The school was fined £52,800 and ordered to pay costs of £10,040.65 and £170 victim surcharge.
At the earlier hearing Mr Menzies had said that it was a case of medium culpability by the school, and the court’s sentencing powers were unlimited.
He said the financial position of the co-educational boarding and day school would be looked at.
Mr Popat said the school agreed the level of culpability but felt sentencing should be at the lower end of that scale.