Warwick Castle bridge death trial: witnesses describe seeing man fall into moat
WITNESSES in the trial over the death of a Warwick Castle visitor have described the moments the man fell from a bridge into the dry moat more than four years ago.
Merlin Attractions Ltd, the company which runs the castle, has pleaded not guilty to two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
The charges brought by Warwick District Council follow the death of 72-year-old George Fredrick Townley from Berkswell in 2007.
On the first day of the trial at Warwick Crown Court (Monday), Natasha Pearce described how at about 4.30pm on Sunday December 9 of that year she saw Mr Townley stumble and fall over the parapet wall on the castle’s Bear and Clarence bridge and fall into the dry moat 15 feet below.
Miss Pearce said: “Mr Townley was walking ahead of us and I saw him stumble diagonally and his calf caught the wall and he toppled over the bridge. It was like a tree trunk coming down and he went down head first.
“One of us screamed and we ran to where he had fallen off.
“I knelt down because I was only expecting him to be very short distance from where I was as it looked as if it would only be a short drop.
“I was very startled to see the drop and I stood up very quickly because I didn’t feel safe.”
Laura Jaycock, who was with Miss Pearce at the time, was also surprised by the height of the drop from the bridge because it had been “disguised by foliage”.
She also raised concerns about the level of lighting on the bridge and explained why she expressed her fears in an email to the district council.
Mrs Jaycock said: “I sent the email because I was so shocked at what I had witnessed and it had happened so easily.
“I was worried that the same thing could happen to children and other members of the public.”
Merlin is accused of failing to take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent or protect visitors from falling from a considerable height when entering or leaving the castle via the bridge.
The charge also alleges the castle failed to provide a barrier to protect visitors from falling from the bridge, failed to display warning signs, failed to ensure it was adequately lit and failed to conduct any suitable risk assessment.
The second charge is of failing in its duty to provide preventative and protective measures.
It is said Merlin failed to take the right approach to identifying the risks to people crossing the bridge.
Keith Morton QC, defending, has said it is accepted the parapet wall, which was just over a foot high, was low but said that risk assessment “is an assessment of foresight, not hindsight” pointing out there had been more than 20 million visitors since the company had been involved with the castle in 1978.
Barry Berlin, prosecuting, said at the time of the accident it was thought Mr Townley had suffered a heart attack which caused him to stumble but that he had actually died of an intracranial haemorrhage as a result of the fall.
Mr Berlin said: “This was an accident which occurred as a result of everyday life.
“The chilling reality of this accident was its normality. It was just a plain normal thing people do, they do trip and he wasn’t doing anything wrong to cantilever over that wall and fall onto his head.”
The trial continues and is expected to last at least until the end of this week.
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