Man jailed after iron gate weighing one-third of a tonne killed grandmother at Blofield Heath, near Norwich

PUBLISHED: 08:14 31 October 2017 | UPDATED: 15:17 31 October 2017

Robert Churchyard at Norwich Crown Court.

Robert Churchyard at Norwich Crown Court. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2016

A man who installed an iron gate which fell on a grandmother and crushed her to death has been jailed for three-and-a-half years.

Jill Lunn.
Picture: submittedJill Lunn. Picture: submitted

Jill Lunn, 56, died in April 2013, when the automatic gate fell on her at her home in Blofield Heath, near Norwich in what the court heard was a “wholly preventable tragedy”.

Robert Churchyard, 52, of Turner Road, Norwich, was convicted of her manslaughter by gross negligence following a trial at Norwich Crown Court. He was also convicted of an offence under the Heath and Safety at Work Act at a separate trial.

Churchyard had worked for Automated Garage Doors and Gates Ltd, and the company also admitted three counts of failing to comply with a requirement under the Supply of Machinery (Safety) regulations and was fined £12,000.

The gate, which weighed around one-third of a tonne, was installed in March 2013, but without any stopping devices to prevent it falling if it was operated manually.

The court heard Mrs Lunn had pulled into the drive, with her grandchild in the car, and tried to close the gate using the remote control.

When it would not work she tried to shut the gate manually and it fell directly on top of her and crushed her to death on April 17, 2013.

Andrew Jackson, prosecuting, said the tragedy could have easily been prevented by means of a stopping device either to the gate or to the track upon which the gate ran. He said the tragedy was wholly preventable.

In an impact statement read in court the family said the death of Mrs Lunn had left them devastated and they felt cheated she had died in this way and were still struggling to come to terms with the way she met her death.

But her daughter said that they felt the person that was most cheated by what happened was Mrs Lunn herself as she had “so much more living to do”.

Jailing Churchyard, Judge Stephen Holt said it was an awful tragedy and said: ““There are no winners.”

He said the victim impact statement from the family was “heartbreaking”.

He said that the case crossed the custody threshold and he had no alternative but to jail Churchyard, whose family left the court in tears.

Anthony Potter, for Churchyard, said that he had never got over what happened.

“He has continued to think about what happened to Mrs Lunn on a daily basis. It’s had an effect on his health,”

He said Churchyard, who worked for the company for 20 years, had since left the company and now worked as a long-distance lorry driver.

He said: “He will not return to this kind of work in the future.”

Philip Hackett, QC for the company, offered its “profound regret” and apologised for its failings.

However he said following the tragedy every single installation by the company was inspected and there was no other failure.

“It is still completely inexplicable what actually happened on this occasion.”

He said the company was a small family enterprise and had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and fully co-operated with the investigation.

Afterwards Det Sgt Darren Reade welcomed the sentence, saying: “Jill’s death should never have happened. If Churchyard had undertaken all the safety work expected of him then she would have been protected from the gate breaking in such a way. I hope that this outcome prevents a similar tragedy from happening in the future.”

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