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Lift maintenance failings led to little girl’s death

16 Jan 19 More than £1.5m in fines have been handed down to two companies that contributed to the death of a five-year-old girl who became trapped while using a lift at her home in Weymouth.

Bournemouth Crown Court heard how Alexys Brown’s family moved into the property in 2009 of which Synergy Housing Limited, as part of the Aster Group, became the owner. The property had an internal lift used by Alexys’ brother who suffers from a degenerative neurological condition and is wheelchair bound.

On 13th August 2015, Alexys got into the lift to get her brother’s phone from upstairs. She put her head through a hole in the vision panel and as the lift moved upward, her head got stuck between the lift and the ground floor ceiling. Alexys Brown died as a result of her injuries.

To ensure the lifts were properly maintained and repaired, Aster Property Limited had a contract with Orona Limited on behalf of Synergy Housing. The contractual relationship was that Synergy Housing had an agreement with Orona for the maintenance and repair of lifts, including the lift at the property in which the Brown family lived. Synergy Housing also had an agreement from June 2013 with Aster Property to arrange the maintenance and repair of lifts and to control the work.

When one of the Perspex vision panels in the lift became damaged in early 2013, it was not fixed or replaced. In May 2015, three months before the fatal incident, an Orona engineer visited the property to inspect the lift and noted that the vision panel was damaged.

An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found a catalogue of failures by the three companies; Synergy Housing, as the Brown family’s landlord which had primary responsibility for the safety of the lift at the property; Aster Property, as the company to which responsibility for arranging lift maintenance issues fell; and Orona, which was responsible for the relevant lift maintenance and repair work.

According to HSE guidance, lifts carrying people should be inspected every six months but, in this case, the lift was serviced only four times between 2009 and 2015 and was not thoroughly examined since 2012. The Perspex vision panel had been damaged for up to 18 months prior to the incident.

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Synergy Housing Limited of Link House, West Street, Poole pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £1m and ordered to pay costs of £40,000.

Synergy Housing accepted that its duties were not to be delegated and that the failings of Aster Property were part of its breach. The charge against Aster Property Limited of Sarsen Court, Horton Avenue, Devizes, was ordered to be left to lie on the court file and was not separately sentenced.

Orona Limited of Europa View, Sheffield Business Park, Sheffield pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £533,000 and ordered to pay costs of £40,000.

HSE inspector Leo Diez said: “These companies failed in their duties to put systems in place to ensure the lift in the Brown’s family home was kept safe – more could have been done by Synergy, Aster and Orona.

“As a result of their negligence, a wholly avoidable tragedy, under horrific circumstances, has occurred where a five-year-old child has lost her life and a family have been left utterly devastated at the loss of their little girl.”

He continued: “Safety-critical aspects of the use and maintenance of the lift were also missed. From December 2013 until 12th May 2015, the lift was not inspected at all – even though safety critical problems had previously been identified they were not rectified. In 2015, when the call-out report contained a warning, there was still a failure to act. Those breaches went unchecked over a long period of time during which the lift became more dangerous for the Brown family to use.”

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