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Council’s guilty plea after flagpole injures two-year-old Otley girl
Leeds City Council will be sentenced at Crown Court for failing to fix a flagpole that seriously injured a two-year-old girl.
River Webster suffered a fractured skull and broken ankle when the 18ft pole, in Otley Memorial Garden, collapsed on March 31, 2012.
An investigation was immediately launched and on Friday the council pleaded guilty at Leeds Magistrates Court to breaching safety legislation by failing to maintain the flagpole.
The court heard that officers had raised concerns about its condition four times before the accident, yet nothing had been done.
Magistrates, noting that they could only impose a maximum fine of £20,000, decided the matter was so serious it should be referred to Leeds Crown Court, where sentencing will take place on Friday, April 12.
Health and Safety Executive inspector Julian Franklin said River had been running to her mother, Charlotte Hodge, in the Bondgate garden on a windless day when the flagpole fell and struck her.
The toddler was taken by ambulance to Leeds General Infirmary. Now three, she will continue to need regular hospital checks until she is five.
Mr Franklin said: “That the flagpole was allowed to deteriorate to this poor condition is bad enough, but it transpired that Leeds City Council had ample warning about the problem and had plenty of opportunities to take action to remedy it.”
Those warnings included:
- In November 2010 the council’s Bereavement service, which manages the garden, was told the pole was decaying and needed attention
- A repeat warning was made in spring, 2011, when another team was asked to inspect the structure, but nothing was done
- In early November, 2011, an officer noticed that work still hadn’t been carried out and told his line manager.
- Later in the same month another officer also noted the flagpole’s condition, but only raised it (incorrectly, as it is the city council’s responsibility) with an officer at Otley Town Council.
Magistrate Philip Atkinson said: “The condition of the flagpole was known about by the council, they had been informed on three or four occasions about it.
“We feel that the procedures for maintenance and inspection were inadequate, and there seemed to be confusion over responsibility.
“The deterioration must have occurred over a significant period of time. Adequate procedures have now been put in place but that was after the event, and this may be of little consolation to River and her family.
“We do view this as extremely serious.
“It’s just fortunate that River’s injuries weren’t even more serious. For that reason, we feel this must go to the Crown Court for sentencing.”
A solicitor for the city council, Gill Marshall, offered a public apology to River and her family for the injury and distress caused.
She said a new “robust” system had been introduced to improve the tracking of the inspection and maintenance of monuments and flagpoles.