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MEMBER OF PUBLIC BRAIN DAMAGED BY FALLING SIGN

Developer failed to inspect and maintain sign on major London project

St George South London Ltd (SGSL), an agent for site owner St George Plc, and A E Tyler Ltd (AETL), trading as Allsigns, have been ordered to pay a total of over £600,000 in fines and prosecution costs after a pedestrian sustained a permanent brain injury when parts of a decaying advertising sign fell on her head.

Olivia Richardson, aged 33, from Clapham, was struck by the section sign advertising the luxury St George Wharf development as she walked along the pavement near Vauxhall Bridge, London with her partner on 22 March 2008.

She was hospitalised for five weeks, including several days in intensive care, and required significant brain surgery. Formerly a primary school teacher, she is no longer able to work and continues to suffer from multiple permanent effects of her injury.

The Old Bailey heard (26 September) that parts of the timber sign (approx 12m x 3m) positioned more than 3m above the pavement, had decayed to the point that it was blown down by a strong gust of wind.

Ms Richardson’s partner recalled hearing a cracking sound as the pair approached traffic lights at Vauxhall Bridge. He turned to find her lying on her back beneath the sign, bleeding heavily from a deep head wound and slipping in and out of consciousness.

Experts judged sign could have fallen “at any time”

HSE investigators established that the sign had a design life of two years. The sign had been in position for over nine years and had never been checked for structural soundness. 

Heavy gusts of wind were recorded on the day of the incident although the condition of the sign was such that experts judged it could have fallen at any time.

St George South London Ltd, of St George House, The Boulevard, Imperial Wharf, Fulham, was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay £222,692 in costs having been found guilty of breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 after a trial in June 2013.

A E Tyler Ltd, of Crown House, Commerce Rd, Brentford, Middlesex, was fined £60,000 with £22,855 costs after pleading guilty to a Section 3(1) breach when the matter first came before the court in November 2011.

After sentencing HSE Inspector Loraine Charles said:

“This very large advertising sign was positioned overlooking an extremely busy junction at the south end of Vauxhall Bridge, adjacent to an entrance to Vauxhall underground station and opposite the bus station.

Tragic as the consequences were for Ms Richardson, they could have been even worse had this incident happened during rush hour and not on a Sunday afternoon.

Throughout the time that the sign remained in place, St George South London Ltd made no sensible efforts to ensure that the structure was safe. Meanwhile, A E Tyler Ltd continued to carry out cosmetic maintenance to the sign, and to make changes to its appearance for many years after it had come to the end of its safe life, without alerting St George to its obligation to ensure that the sign was properly inspected and maintained.”

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