Two companies fined following death of five-year-old Alexys Brown

Affordable housing business and contractor fined over £1.5m

Two companies have been sentenced following the death of a five-year-old girl who became trapped whilsy using a lift installed at her home in Weymouth in 2015.

Bournemouth Crown Court heard how the family of Alexys Brown moved into the property in 2009 which was provided with

an internal lift used by her brother who suffers from a degenerative neurological condition.

On 13 August 2015 Alexys used the the lift to go to the upper floor. She put her head through a hole in the vision panel and as the lift moved upward her head was trapped between the lift and the ground floor ceiling. She died as a result of the resultant injuries.

When a vision panel in the lift became damaged in early 2013 it was not fixed or replaced. In May 2015 an engineer visited the property to inspect the lift and noted the vision panel was damaged.

Catalogue of failures

HSE investigators found a catalogue of failures by three companies; Synergy Housing (the landlord) which had primary responsibility for the safety of the lift at the property; Aster Property Ltd with responsibility for arranging lift maintenance issues and Orona Ltd who were responsible for the relevant lift maintenance and repair work.

  • 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 and has been fined £1 million and ordered to pay costs of £40k.
  • 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 and has been fined £533,000 and ordered to pay costs of £40k.

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.

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. 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.

Safety-critical aspects of the use and maintenance of the lift were also missed. From December 2013 until 12 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.”

Family let down

Michael Reece – Aster Group Operations Director said after the hearing:

“I fully accept that at the time of the accident in August 2015, we had not done everything we should have to make sure the lift was defect free and that this contributed to the accident which so tragically ended Alexys’ life. We therefore let the Brown family down and for that I am truly sorry.

We exist to make a positive difference to the lives of our customers and the safety of our customers, colleagues and contractors remains our priority. In this case we did not meet the standards expected of us and we expect of ourselves, and that is a matter of profound regret.

We have reviewed every aspect of our lift maintenance and contract management processes to reduce, as far as possible, the chances of an accident involving our lifts from ever happening again. Safety is not something we will ever be complacent about and our focus will remain on continuing to improve and learn from every safety concern.

We inspected all our through floor lifts across our portfolio immediately after the accident and all were found to be safe and in good working order. We remain in contact with our customers to reassure them of the actions we have taken and to remind them what to do if they have any concerns at all about their lift.

Our thoughts and deepest sympathies remain with the Brown family at what must be an incredibly difficult time. We will of course continue to provide them with any support we can as their landlord.

Findings by HSE during the investigation included:
  • Tenants were not provided with safety critical information concerning the operation of the lift;
  • No risk assessment was carried out following the change of lift user when the Brown family moved in;
  • Concerns raised during service inspections were not addressed including:
  1. The Perspex vision panel had been damaged for up to 18 months prior to the incident. On 12 May 2015, an Orona engineer completed a service inspection and, in his report, wrote “Routine service visit – Glass in door smashed!” but this was not fixed or replaced;
  2. Problems with the emergency lowering and lack of emergency hand winding wheel during the whole of the Brown family’s tenancy, and which was shown in the documentation from at least January 2011;
  3. The key switch used to control operation of the lift had been modified from factory installation to allow removal of the key in any position. Because the switch was in the “on” position with the key removed, it could be operated by anyone at any time.
  • Concerns raised by Alexys’ brother’s health workers were not taken seriously enough;
  • 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.