THE NHS has been fined £40,000 after a pensioner fell 12ft to his death on his mobility scooter from a walkway at Fareham Health Centre.
Benjamin Withers, 82 – known to friends as John – died after accidentally driving his mobility scooter forward into the side of a glazed screen on an access bridge.
Mr Withers moved forward again and fell through the opening in the wooden weather screen which had partially given way at Fareham Health Centre in Osborn Road.
A Health and Safety Executive investigation found the barrier had not been constructed to the required standard to resist impact from a mobility scooter.
There was no assessment of the weather screen, nor had the structure been properly maintained.
Investigators found sections of the wood were rotten.
Mr Withers died on September 20 in 2012 at Fareham Health Centre.
Today at Portsmouth Crown Court Mr Wither’s sons Antony Withers, 55, and Trevor Withers, 47, were in court with their father’s friends as the NHS was sentenced.
The court heard a woman on a mobility scooter had in August 2007 hit the walkway with a mobility scooter and staff were concerned it could fall below.
Sentencing, judge Sarah Munro QC said: ‘I cannot ignore the result of any order I make today will in fact involve payment of one government department to another.
‘The purpose of a fine is to inflict punishment upon an organisation but where that organisation is a public body I shouldn’t seek to inflict harm on the public.’
The judge added: ‘My fine is not intended to reflect the value of a human life and nor can it do so.
‘Human life is priceless and this court is not involved in any attempt to value Mr Wither’s life.’
She added there was a risk to pedestrians, mobility scooter riders, wheelchairs users and parents with push chairs using the walkway.
The HSE prosecuted the NHS Litigation Authority, which pleaded guilty to one count of breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act.
The authority pleaded guilty on behalf of the proprietor NHS Hampshire and NHS Portsmouth which had entered into a contract for maintenance and repair.
These two organisations no longer exist and the NHS Litigation Authority was set up to take criminal responsibility for any cases.
Investigators found the collapsed section was so badly decayed that parts of wood could be removed by hand.
Maintenance to replace the rotten wood had been planned but cancelled more than 20 times.
In a statement HSE inspector Michael Baxter said: ‘This tragic incident could have been avoided if the barrier at Fareham Health Centre had met the well-known and established standards for design and construction of barriers.
‘Instead a family have lost a well-loved husband and father.
‘Mobile scooters are being used increasingly, especially in pedestrian areas.
‘Businesses need to appreciate this and ensure existing structures and barriers are re-assessed to ensure they are suitable for these machines.’
The judge added the authority must pay £15,000 costs.
The authority admitted one charge involving four failures.
They were were failing to assess the risks arising from the use of a mobility scooter at the wooden timber frame, failing to assess if the wooden frame could withstand a collision from a mobility scooter, failing to adequately maintain the glazed timber frame and failing to repair or replace sections of the frame as being reported by their own employers and agents.
The court heard the rotten wood had lost ‘all structural integrity’.
The judge added: ‘The tragic facts are that on September 20, 2012, following a routine medical appointment with his GP, 82-year-old Benjamin John Withers, known as John, was driving his mobility scooter on the short bridge which leads to the health centre.
‘The scooter collided with the glazed timber frame and the frame itself gave way and he fell to his death on on the walkway three-and-a-half metres below.’
In mitigation, Bernard Thorogood said the NHS Litigation Authority had pleaded guilty, had taken its responsibility to health and safety, had no previous convictions, that it was not a profit at the expense of safety case, it had assisted the prosecution and it was not a failure in a core expert service.