Death of daughter, five, whose head got trapped in a lift

Two companies have now been fined more than £1.5m after the death of a girl, five, whose head got trapped in a lift.

Alexys Brown died from ‘horrific’ head and neck injuries when she got her head trapped between a disability lift and the ceiling of her home in Weymouth, Dorset in August 2015.  The lift had been installed in the family home for Lexi’s older brother Jack, who is wheelchair-bound.

The incident happened when Jack asked his five-year-old sister to fetch his mobile phone from upstairs, Bournemouth Crown Court heard.

Yesterday a judge at Bournemouth Crown Court fined housing association Synergy Housing Ltd, which owned the property where Alexys lived with her family, £1million.

Maintenance contractor Orona Ltd, which was responsible for servicing and maintaining the lift, was fined £533,000.

Both companies were ordered to pay £40,000 towards the costs of the Health and Safety Executive prosecution.

Lexi’s mother Lorraine Brown described the last three years as ‘unimaginable’.  She said:

‘Hold your children a little tighter, love your family a little harder because you never know when you might not be able to anymore.  The loss of Alexys has impacted our lives and our children’s lives immensely.  Nothing can ever bring Alexys back to us. The fines to us are irrelevant. All we ever wanted was an apology from Synergy and we got that.  Alexys was a loving, carefree and angelic little girl who was full of energy, love and laughter.  I hope that what has happened to our family sheds light on others in order to avoid anything like this ever happening again.  We are now looking forward in raising our children with memories, photos, videos and stories of their sister.’

Mrs Brown, who was accompanied by her husband Matthew, added:

‘Hold your children a little tighter and love your family a little harder. You never know when you won’t be able to anymore.’

Bournemouth Crown Court heard that as the little girl went up on the platform lift she was able to put her head through a hole in the Perspex door panel, which had not been repaired – and she got trapped.

Firefighters had to cut Alexys free because there was no emergency key or handle to manually free her, the court heard.

Sadly Alexys couldn’t be saved and she died at the scene from head and neck injuries.

They told Health and Safety Executive investigators there had been ongoing problems with the lift since they moved in, including the doors not opening. By May 2015 the Perspex door panel was damaged and should have been repaired or replaced.

The lift should have been serviced every six months and subjected to a ‘thorough examination’ twice yearly by a third party insurer.  That examination was last carried out in 2012 after Synergy told the insurance company the lift had been removed.

Orona had twice quoted Synergy a price to replace the lift but the housing association did not approve the work as it was investigating the building of a ground floor extension instead.

At a previous hearing both companies pleaded guilty to a single charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Dominic Kay QC, for Synergy, said:

‘Synergy accepts wholeheartedly its failings. It is important to understand the feelings of regret and remorse felt at Synergy.’

James Ageros QC, representing Orona, expressed his ‘sincere regret and condolences’ to Alexys’ family.

‘Nothing I say is meant to detract from the human tragedy of this case,’ he added.

Passing sentence, Judge Stephen Climie listed several failings, including a failure to ensure the proper maintenance and repair of the lift.

‘No one should ever lose sight of the fact that this was industrial machinery operating in a domestic setting with young children present which should have resulted in the most careful assessment of safety measures and controls at all times,’ he said.

Each defendant has accepted responsibility through the basis of plea documents and has accepted that to some extent each is responsible for causing Alexys’ death.

Between them I am satisfied that they were wholly responsible for her death and the desperate loss to her family.’

Both companies are to pay £40,000 prosecution costs. Charges against a third company, Aster Property Ltd, were ordered to lie on file.

After passing sentence, Judge Climie praised the Brown family for the ‘dignity and strength that would be beyond many of us’.

‘It is clear the family feel responsible for Alexys’ death. The only fault which attaches in this case as far as Alexys’ death is concerned lies with the defendants,’ he said.

‘No words or actions by this court can compensate the family for their loss.

‘The financial penalties which are imposed in this case are not a reflection of value of her life. She was beautiful, and she was priceless.’

The list of fatal errors included;

  • A key switch preventing the lift being used unsupervised was never given to the family
  • A handle to operate the emergency lowering system was never supplied to the family
  • The family were never given any training on operating the lift or a user manual
  • In 2012 Orona quoted Synergy £14,000 for a new lift after a series of failings with the existing one but this was never followed up
  • A third party insurance company stopped bi-annual inspections of the lift in 2012 as it was wrongly told the lift had been removed
  • Orona was notified of the damaged door three months before the tragedy but nothing was done to fix this.
  • The Browns were so worried about the safety of the lift they applied for planning permission to extend their end-of-terrace house so Jack could have his bedroom downstairs.

A judge at Bournemouth Crown Court fined Synergy, which is part of Aster Group, £1m. Orona Ltd was fined £533,000. Both companies were ordered to pay £40,000 towards the costs of the Health and Safety Executive prosecution.

Judge Stephen Climie told Alexys’ parents, Lorraine and Matthew, that the fine was in no way a reflection of the value of their ‘beautiful and priceless’ daughter’s life.