Was HSE told the whole truth?

January 2017 - Allan Richards looks at another example of the Canal & River Trust's interaction with the Health and Safety Executive.

Ken Churchill’s narrowboat, Patafea Percosa, sunk after hanging up on the wall at Lock 40, Newton Bank, Leeds and Liverpool Canal on 10 August 2012.

Despite settling his claim against them out of court four years later, the Canal and River Trust still insists it has done nothing wrong.

It says: “Whilst we will be installing some new signage at the lock, it simply reiterates some of the advice already contained in the Boaters Handbook i.e. to keep boats parallel to the lock wall, ahead of the cill and off the front gate.

“We do not consider the lock to be unsafe and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has accepted that there are no defects.

“Therefore, we do not accept any liability for the incident.”

Despite such a glaring example of legal hair splitting, the sinking has had a long term impact on Ken Churchill and his family.

Ken's wife, who was at the helm at the time of the incident, went inside the boat to retrieve their four-year-old grandniece from what she thought was the frightening situation of the boat being hung up.

However, within seconds the boat began to sink. Luckily, she managed to pass her grandniece through the side hatch which Mr Churchill had broken, and then climbed out herself before the boat submerged.

Four years later, after racking up huge court costs and failing to satisfy a court order to produce a relevant a risk assessment, the Trust agreed to settle Mr Churchill’s claim in full.

It is estimated that C&RT spend £500,000 fighting Mr Churchill, much of which could have been saved if they had admitted liability earlier.

Some two years into his battle with the Trust, Mr Churchill contacted HSE to express concerns regarding boater safety at lock 40 and adjacent locks.

Despite a history of previous hang ups prior to 2012 and evidence that hang ups continue to happen, C&RT’s only action has been to staple a notice to the top lock gates. It reads –

Keep forward of the cill mark
Keep parallel to wall
Keep off the bottom gate

Absolutely no mention of the hidden hang up hazard!

Those responsible in C&RT are Chantelle Seaborn, North West Waterway Manager and Tony Stammers, Head of Health and Safety.

Despite email correspondence with HSE over a two-year period and two reports purporting to address Mr Churchill’s concerns, these officers of the Trust have failed to disclose that, since 2008, C&RT have minimum safety standards relating to locks.

Minimum Safety Standard 2.d.3 reads ‘Lock chambers and gates are to be free of protrusions/indentations that could snag boats ‘.

Would it be fair to say that C&RT deliberately misled HSE and could that failure to provide key information have resulted in the Trust's claim that HSE accepted there were no defects at Lock 40?

Mr Churchill says he will now ask HSE to issue an Improvement Notice because that the Trust have failed to take all reasonably practicable measures to ensure the safety of its locks.
The Floater asked C&RT how many cases its lawyers settle out of court in this way and what the cost is in legal time and fees as well as payments to people like Mr Churchill, a month ago.
The response is still silence.

Photos: (Top) The scene of the sinking - and other incidents
(2nd) After the lock was emptied
(3rd) The bow of the sunken boat
(4th) Scars on the brickwork where boats have caught
(5th) Inside the boats once it was recovered

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