Sons’ grief as NHS fined £40,000 for dad’s plunge death

Trevor, left, and Antony Withers outside Portsmouth Crown Court yesterday Picture: Paul Jacobs (160007-8)
Trevor, left, and Antony Withers outside Portsmouth Crown Court yesterday Picture: Paul Jacobs (160007-8)
  • Former train driver died in nearly 12ft plunge from bridge
  • He hit side of access bridge twice in his mobility scooter
  • Now NHS has been fined £40,000 with £15,000 costs by a judge
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THE grieving sons of a pensioner who died in a 12ft plunge say there were a ‘catalogue of errors’ and ‘missed opportunities’ that mean their dad should be alive today.

It comes as the NHS was fined £40,000 by a judge at Portsmouth Crown Court over the death of 82-year-old Benjamin Withers – known as John – at Fareham Health Centre.

Benjamin Withers, who died in the mobility scooter accident

Benjamin Withers, who died in the mobility scooter accident

He had been to a routine appointment with his GP at the Osborn Road centre when he hit the glass panel on a pedestrian walkway bridge with his mobility scooter twice before crashing through a timber frame plunging nearly 12ft to his death.

His appointment had been moved to that day, September 20 in 2012, only hours earlier, his sons said.

The court heard the rotten wood had been due to be fixed but the work was moved more than 20 times and cancelled.

An external surveyor had said work on the first-floor bridge was not needed on wood and it could have lasted another 25 years with maintenance.

I’m frustrated, I can’t feel angry. It’s gone past that stage. There’s been a catalogue of errors – we’ve lived with it for years, it’s been awful

Trevor Withers

A woman on a mobility scooter had crashed into it in 2007 sparking staff’s fears someone could fall through.

Speaking after the court case yesterday his two sons Antony Withers, 55, and Trevor Withers, 47, criticised the now-dissolved primary care trusts involved.

Antony said: ‘Even if they got three times that amount it’s not going to bring my father back.’

Both brothers are frustrated that the NHS Litigation Authority was in court – and not NHS Hampshire, which ran the centre, or NHS Portsmouth, which had the maintenance and repair contract. Those bodies have been dissolved.

‘We feel frustrated,’ Antony added.

‘When you think the lady in 2007 hit it, did they not think about putting a barrier in or some sort of protection?

Trevor said: ‘I’m frustrated, I can’t feel angry. It’s gone past that stage. There’s been a catalogue of errors – we’ve lived with it for years, it’s been awful.’

The brothers will decide together with Mr Withers’ widow Bessie, 82, whether they will pursue civil action.

The court heard an annual inspection would have discovered the extent of rot.

Staff and carpenters had raised concerns previously, the court heard.

In 2011 repairs were considered a ‘low priority’, the court heard.

Investigators at the Health & Safety Executive were able to easily pull apart the rotten wood. The court heard the walkway has since been boarded up which is not a ‘permanent solution’.

Antony, who is stage manager at Ferneham Hall, added: ‘It’s been left boarded up – I have to look at that every day.

‘We just want to put it behind us.’

Sentencing, judge Sarah Munro QC said the fine sends out the message health and safety law must be followed.

She said: ‘The incident involving Mr Withers was not an isolated incident or an unexpected one.’

The judge added: ‘The purpose of a fine is to “inflict painful punishment” upon an organisation but where that organisation is a public body I shouldn’t seek to inflict harm on the public.’

She added: ‘Human life is priceless and this court is not involved in any attempt to value Mr Withers’ life.’

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 involving four failures.

NHS Litigation Authority must also pay £15,000 costs following the Health and Safety Executive prosecution.

In mitigation, Bernard Thorogood said the NHS Litigation Authority had pleaded guilty, had taken its responsibility to health and safety seriously, 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.

Mr Withers, of Fareham, leaves behind his wife Bessie, 82, two sons and two grandchildren.

Family statement for much-loved grandad

HE WAS an active man, a devoted husband and he is sorely missed.

Those are the feelings of Benjamin Withers’ family in a statement released following the court case yesterday.

The 82-year-old left behind his wife Bessie two sons Antony and Trevor, and two grandchildren.

In a statement Trevor said: ‘This has been a traumatic event for all my family.

‘Due to these breaches in health and safety our family has lost a devoted husband, father and grandfather.

‘My mother has lost a husband and a major part of her life. This has affected her deeply, she has not been able to visit her local shopping centre or walk past her local surgery where my dad died.

‘The centre is also close to my brother’s place of work and he has to see it every day.

‘My dad was full of life, I will never forget that sunny day on September 20, 2012, when my nephew and I last saw him going into Fareham Health Centre, I never thought that this would be the last time we would ever see him.’

Inspector Michael Baxter, of the Health & Safety Executive, added: ‘This tragic incident could have easily been avoided if the barrier at Fareham Health Centre had met the well-known and established standards.’

Defendant pleaded guilty but for former authorities

IN THIS case nobody stood in the dock inside the court.

And the organisation that pleaded guilty had no part to play in the circumstances that led to Benjamin Withers death.

The NHS Litigation Authority was set up to accept criminal responsibility for the two primary care trusts involved.

Hampshire NHS was the proprietor of the health centre while Portsmouth City Teaching Hospitals had the repair and maintenance contract.

They have been dissolved. It meant that the authority had to agree to failings.

They were: failing to assess the risks arising from the use of a mobility scooter near the wooden timber frame; failing to assess if the frame could withstand a collision from a mobility scooter; failing to adequately maintain the frame; and failing to repair or replace sections of the frame as reported by their own employees and agents.