Inquest verdict into death of Sunderland engineer who died in ferry tragedy

Stephen Summerside with wife Donna.
Stephen Summerside with wife Donna.

A jury has concluded that an engineer who was crushed to death between the car and lift shaft on a ferry undergoing a refit died as the result of an accident.

An inquest had previously seen CCTV footage of Sunderland man Stephen Summerside’s last moments on board the MV Ulysses where he was carrying out inspections of the lifts at Falmouth Docks. .

The 44-year-old from Sunderland can be seen manually opening the doors of the lift before stepping on top of the car.

Further images then show staff on a floor above calling the lift up.

The staff found they could not close the doors or get the lift to move but said there was nothing out of the ordinary and they did not report it as they said the lift often failed to work.

Their actions however left him trapped between the car and the top of the shaft, a space of about three to six metres, and he was not discovered for several hours.

Evidence from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said there did not appear to be adequate risk assessments carried out and that it appeared the contractors, including Mr Summerside, may not have seen them.

The married father of two had been staying on board the 51,000-tonne ship, operated by Irish Ferries and berthed at Queen Elizabeth dock at A&P Falmouth, since January 5, 2016. He died on January 11.

The Truro inquest, heard Mr Summerside died of traumatic asphyxia. He had suffered a head injury, rib fractures, severe bruising and had an open leg fracture.

Pathologist Russell Delaney told the three-day jury inquest: “It would have been a relatively quick unconsciousness and death. There was clear evidence of trunkle compression. This would have severely restricted his ability to breath.”

There were question marks over why the lift was not in safety mode as, if it was, it would not have been able to be called from another floor.

Inspector Billy McWhirter, from Devon and Cornwall Police, said the CCTV images firstly showed Mr Summerside inside the lift carrying out a variety of checks. He is then seen outside the lift on deck ten and reaches up to use a key to be able to open the doors.

He then sends the car down to deck nine and is then believed to have stepped on top. As the CCTV only takes images every three seconds, it was not known if he tried to switch the lift to safety mode from the landing before stepping onto it.

He was working for Lift Tech, owned by Michael Moore, who was also working at the docks as part of a three-man team, including Mr Summerside and a colleague named only as Mr Oaten.

Mr Oaten had started work later that day and went to find Mr Summerside but discovered him at about 10.30am, after he went to the motor room and found the lift stuck at the top of the shaft. He had last been seen, according to the CCTV images, about three hours earlier.

He said: "I looked in and saw a high-vis (jacket) on top of it. I couldn't fully see Stephen because of his location but because he wasn't moving on his own I thought that he was injured.

"I don't think he got the chance to get out. He went to push the button to stop the lift and I assume he's slipped on top of the lift and he wasn't able to put the lift into inspection mode."

He told the inquest that normal practice would have been to manually open the doors of the lift, press the stop button, close the door and check the lift was not moving, open the doors again and put lift into safe mode, before stepping onto the top of the car.

He called Mr Moore, who, with another worker, managed to move the lift to get him off the top and perform CPR.

HSE officer Emma O’Hara said full risk assessments about working on top of lift cars may not have been carried out.

“There was limited detail about riding on top of the lift cars,” she said. “On the day of the incident Mr Summerside was working alone, which requires robust safety systems at work, and documents (we have seen) do not cover it.”