Blofield woman crushed to death by gate in tragedy which could have been ‘easily prevented’

A woman died after becoming trapped under a large metal gate in Blofield Heath.Picture: James Bass

A woman died after becoming trapped under a large metal gate in Blofield Heath.Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

An iron gate crushed a woman to death in a 'wholly preventable tragedy' as her granddaughter waited in her car nearby, a court heard.

Jill Lunn, 56, had driven home with her granddaughter, Ava, when she went to close the remote control gate by hand after the automatic mechanism failed, Norwich Crown Court heard.

The gate, which was at the entrance to her driveway in Field Lane, Blofield Heath, near Norwich, weighed around a third of a tonne and operated automatically with a motor sliding it along a steel track on the ground and stopping it in the correct place.

Andrew Jackson, prosecuting, said it was designed to be operated manually as well, but a fitter had failed to install any safety stops and the track was longer than the gate, meaning the gate was able to detach and fall.

Mrs Lunn suffered a heart attack while pinned under the gate at the rural location, with a passer-by on horseback raising the alarm.

Robert Churchyard, 51, of Turner Road, Norwich, denies gross negligence manslaughter and breaching a general duty of care in his work.

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Mr Jackson said the 'tragedy could have been easily prevented by simple stop devices on the gates or on the track on which it ran'.

Churchyard was a fitter for Automated Garage Doors and Gates Ltd, based at the Sweetbriar industrial estate in Burnet Road, Norwich.

'He obtained all the necessary parts for the gate and it was he alone who fitted the gate,' said Mr Jackson.

'However, he failed, we say, to fit any stops to the gate and on the track on which it ran to prevent it from coming off its track as it was operated manually.'

He described the set-up as 'highly dangerous' as there was nothing to hold the gate in place.

Within days of the gate being fitted, the automatic mechanism stopped working. Churchyard was called out and spent 13 minutes fixing it.

Mr Jackson said this call-out showed the defendant 'knew full well of the need' for safety stops, as the gate would be used manually.

'It had to be made safe for manual use to prevent what we say was a wholly preventable tragedy,' he said.

Churchyard had more than 20 years of experience as a fitter, the court heard.

Mrs Lunn lived in an annex at the property owned by her daughter Jane Shannon, son-in-law Christopher and their daughter.

Mr and Mrs Shannon had decided to buy a remote control gate for the property in 2012 and found a local company on the internet.

The gate took two days to fit and was finished on March 7, 2013. Mrs Lunn died on April 17, 2013.

Mr Shannon said the gate, which cost more than £10,000 including installation, had broken several times. Mr Jackson said Churchyard claimed he had fitted a device to act as a stop, but Mr Jackson said that this was a temporary bracket intended to align tracks as they set in wet concrete.

He added there was no evidence one had been used in any event.

The jury was shown CCTV footage of Mrs Lunn arriving home with her grandchild, pulling on to the drive then starting to close the gate.

Footage stopped as the gate began to topple towards her.

Automated Garage Doors and Gates Ltd admitted three counts of failing to comply with a requirement under the Supply of Machinery (Safety) regulations at an earlier hearing.

The trial continues.

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