A LIFT door left unsecured by an engineer led to an elderly woman accidentally falling to her death down a lift shaft, a court heard.
Elizabeth Young, 92, fell three metres (10ft) at her Whitley Bay nursing home in September 2010 after one lift door was left open, even though the lift was not there.
Derwent Lift Services Ltd, which maintained the lift, and their employee, engineer Paul Thompson, previously pleaded not guilty to a total of five health and safety breaches.
On the first day of a trial at Newcastle Crown Court yesterday, the jury heard Thompson had been called out to Heathdale Care Home two days before the accident after staff reported the lift had broken.
A care assistant and another resident had difficulties with the lift and it was manually brought by staff to the ground floor using an hydraulic switch.
Fellow care assistant John Clough then reported the smell of burning and the fire service was called, but no fire was found, the court was told.
After the crew left, staff phoned Derwent Lift Services, based on Greencroft Industrial Estate, Annfield Plain, County Durham, and they sent Thompson to fix the problem.
While investigating the issue, during which time Thompson visited the lift on the first and second floor of the three-storey property, he concluded that a mechanical part, known as the retiring ramp, had burned out and needed replacing, the court heard.
He told staff he couldn’t get the part until two days later and that the lift was out of service until then, at which point he would return.
But on the morning of September 20, Mrs Young was woken and dressed by staff in her second-floor bedroom, and then left in her chair ahead of being brought downstairs for breakfast.
However, when they returned to the room, they discovered Mrs Young, who had dementia but could still walk with a Zimmer frame, had disappeared.
After a search, it was noticed that the lift door on the second floor was open and Mrs Young’s body was lying on top of the lift, that was somewhere between the ground and first floor. She died from her injuries.
Susan Hirst, prosecuting, said Thompson and the managing director of Derwent Lift Services, Colin Gurnhill, had returned to the lift in the days after the death and only tried to carry out work on it when they knew an investigation would be under way.
She said: “It’s the prosecution’s case that, following the death of Mrs Young, Paul Thompson and Colin Gurnhill had returned to the home and discovered that the lift door was not closing properly.
“They were aware that a resident had died and that circumstances of her death required to be thoroughly investigated. They took the decision to try to adjust the lock to ensure that it would self-close. They plainly hadn’t sought authority to do this.”
She added: “On September 28, when an independent lift engineer came to the home, he opened the lift door and immediately noticed that the mechanical lock on the door appeared to have been filed down.”
Mrs Hirst said Thompson had breached health and safety laws by not securing or locking the second-floor lift door. Thompson denied one charge of a health and safety breach.
She also told the court that Derwent Lift Services had faced four counts of breaching health and safety laws as they failed to conduct their undertaking of ensuring health and safety to Heathdale Court, they hadn’t provided sufficient risk assessments and training and the actions of Thompson and Mr Gurnhill in filing the interlock also counted as a breach.
The court heard that Thompson, 60, of Hayleazes Road, Denton Burn, Newcastle, had started working at Derwent Lift Services in 1993 and had only had one course of training or refresher training in that time. The case continues.