Council fined after flagpole hits little girl on the head

River Webster. Below: The Otley flagpole base after it collapsed
River Webster. Below: The Otley flagpole base after it collapsed
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LEEDS City Council has been fined £12,000 after a toddler suffered serious injuries when a flagpole fell and hit her on the head in a memorial garden.

A court heard yesterday how concerns had been raised over the safety of the structure on several occasions in the 18 months leading up to the incident.

The Otley flagpole base after it collapsed

The Otley flagpole base after it collapsed

Two-year-old River Webster was playing in Otley Memorial Garden when the five-metre high wooden flagpole fell and struck her on top of the head on March 31 last year.

Otley Memorial Garden, on Bondgate, one of the main streets in the town, is open to the public.

Leeds Crown Court heard the youngster was in the garden with her mother, Charlotte Hodge, and her brothers and sisters when she was struck and fell to the ground.

Mr Hodge described how River began making deep-throated noises. She remained conscious throughout the ordeal but her pupils became like “tiny pinpricks.”

River was taken to Leeds General Infirmary after suffering a large skull fracture and bleeding on the brain.

Her right foot was also fractured and she was in plaster for six weeks.

The toddler is still undergoing regular health check but appears to have recovered and has suffered no lasting neurological damage.

River’s family are in the process of taking civil action against the local authority.

Adam Birkby, prosecuting, told Leeds Crown Court how the maintenance of the flagpole “fell between the cracks” of two of the local authority’s departments - the Parks and Countryside Service, who undertake horticultural work, and Bereavement Services, who are responsible for maintaining the war memorial and furniture in the garden.

In November 2010 a gardener employed by the council reported that the flagpole was rotting at the bottom.

A joiner employed in the Parks and Countryside Department also reported a problem around the same time.

A maintenance officer inspected the flagpole in May 2011 and a series of photographs were taken but again no action was taken.The memorial’s inspection officer was unaware that an annual inspection should have included the flagpole.

In November 2011 the flagpole was raised and the inspector explained that he gave it “a shake and it was fine.”

After the incident the council accepted that the inspection and maintenance regime had fallen short of expected standards and pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

David Hercock, mitigating. told the court he would like to express regret and remorse for the distress caused to River and her family.

He added: “Measures have been put in place to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

The barrister said the council had since worked closely with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)to review procedures.

Mr Hercock added that Leeds City Council employed 20,000 staff and was proud of its safety record. The council has been in court on three occasions over the past 13 years over safety issues.In addition to the fine, judge Neil Clark ordered Leeds City Council to pay £6,000 court costs.

He said: “There seems to have been a breakdown in communication. The irony was that the people providing the warnings were from another limb of the local authority.”

He added: “Leeds City Council has an excellent record given the size of the authority

After the hearing Julian Franklin, from the HSE, said: “The little girl was very lucky not to be more seriously injured.

“The offence arose from a breakdown in communication which resulted in failing to maintain a structure and led to a problem which could have resulted in a fatality.

“The council reacted quickly to put new measures in place but they should never have needed to take that action. They should already have had a system under their control and they should have had a system for registering maintenance.”

“The judge was very fair in his summing up and we have no comment to make in relation to the penalties imposed.”