Hotelier fined after woman's cellar fall

A HOTELIER has been ordered to pay more than £12,000 after failing to lock a cellar door which led to a north Essex woman falling downstairs and knocking herself unconscious.

A HOTELIER has been ordered to pay more than £12,000 after failing to lock a cellar door which led to a north Essex woman falling downstairs and knocking herself unconscious.

Maxine Burlingham, 41, was ordered to pay £8,322 in costs and £4,000 in fines after a 52-year-old mother-of-three from Frinton opened the unlocked cellar door thinking it led to the toilets at The Beeches hotel in Norwich.

Mrs Burlingham, who runs The Beeches, Adlards restaurants, Café 91 in Earlham Road and two other Norfolk hotels, pleaded guilty to failing to comply with heath and safety regulations which led to the injuries, as well as two charges of failing to report the accident to Norwich City Council.

The court heard how Anne Taylor was at the hotel as a guest on November 17 last year and, after drinking herbal lemon tea in the bar, went to the toilet for a tissue.

Poor signage on the toilet door indicated an arrow to the right, supposedly meaning go through the door and turn right, but was read by Mrs Taylor, a retail supervisor from Frinton-on-Sea in Essex, that she needed to go through the next door.

However, that door led to a steep staircase down to the cellar, so she tumbled down the wooden steps, hitting her head, bruising her legs, buttocks and severely injuring her back when she landed at the bottom unconscious.

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Richard Wood, prosecuting, said: “She was found by a member of staff. She was bleeding quite heavily on her head and had to be taken to hospital and x-rayed.

“She had injuries to her pelvis, leg, right hand and there was blood in her urine.”

Mrs Taylor was unable to return to work until January 7 this year, Norwich Crown Court heard.

The accident was never reported to the council, which is part of health and safety regulations, and it was not until Mrs Taylor rang them that they discovered what had happened.

Mrs Burlingham, of Sylvan Way in Taverham, accepted responsibility for the business, but had handed over the “day to day running” to her team and husband.

When approached by officers from Norwich City Council about the accident she never tried to hide what had happened and made instant changes to the unlocked cellar door, which is used to store dried food, wine and alcohol.

One of the issues revealed in court was that the health and safety consultant employed by the Burlinghams was sacked in July last year.

Jonathan Bates, defending, said: “It was an unpleasant experience for Mrs Taylor and we are sorry she was injured.

“The Burlinghams don't have savings because they put it towards the businesses.”

Judge Peter Jacobs, said the case was “very unfortunate” and in the great scheme of health and safety issues there were far more serious cases.

He added: “If you open premises to the public then I'm afraid you do take on enormous responsibility. The public are your guests and you have to anticipate their behaviour and plan very carefully.”

In relation to Mrs Burlingham failing to report the accident, Judge Jacobs said: “It seems you weren't aware of the procedures laid down.”

He ordered Mrs Burlingham, who has run the hotel since 2002, to pay the fine and costs within 28 days.

After the case Mrs Taylor said she had only ever brought the case to the attention of the council officers so no one else was injured again.

She said: “I'm just glad it's been brought to the front so it doesn't happen to anyone else.

“I still have lower back problems and a specialist has said I've sprained parts in my back which will take two years to heal.”

Norwich City Council, senior environmental officer, Penny Coult said the case was the latest in a string of similar incidents.

She said: “In the last three years relating there have been three fatalities and five serious injuries, all because of similar circumstances. We have had a spate of accidents in Norwich with cellar doors or open spaces.”