Hampshire County Council has been fined £1.4m after a six-year-old girl playing on an unsecured street bollard suffered a life-changing head injury.
The incident took place on 28 December 2015, when the girl was visiting Lymington with her family. She climbed onto the cast iron hinged bollard on Quay Hill, a cobbled pedestrianised street. The bollard fell to the ground taking the child with it.
Bournemouth Crown Court was told that as a result, the girl suffered serious, life-changing head injuries that were initially life-threatening and spent six months in hospital in a critical condition. The extent of her brain injury will not be fully known until her brain has matured, the court heard.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the bollard which weighed approximately 69kg was damaged and not appropriately secured.
This matter had been reported to Hampshire County Council prior to the incident and monthly scheduled inspections had failed to identify this.
“The investigation also found insufficient information, instruction and training were provided to the council’s highways department personnel conducting ad hoc and monthly inspections, and the inspection guidance was misleading,” the HSE said.
After a trial, Hampshire County Council was found guilty of breaching Section 3(1) of Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
In addition to the £1.4m, it was ordered to pay full costs of £130,632.
HSE inspector Angela Sirianni said: “Councils have a duty to adequately assess and control risks to members of the public from street furniture.
“A child has been left with life-changing injuries as a result of what was an easily preventable incident. Council inspections failed to identify this risk over a long period of time and then, when alerted to the damage to the bollard, failed to take the urgent action required to prevent injury.”
A spokesperson for Hampshire County Council said: “We deeply regret the injuries to the child and have done all we can to support her and the family since the accident, and will continue to do so. While we fully accept the verdict and the county council’s liabilities, we believe that this was an exceptional and unfortunate incident.
“We are satisfied that our officers followed the county council’s policies and procedures in force at the time. However, the Court found that these procedures fell short of requirements, arising from the change in Government policy - from a national framework to an approach based on risk assessment - which is more locally determined. This case may prove to be an important test case for the interpretation of this change more widely. Since the incident, our policies have been independently reviewed and updated, and we have taken further steps to learn lessons, including a revision of procedures, and additional investment in staffing and training.”