Published on March 28th, 2011 | by Dean Carr
Negligent pub landlord jailed for manslaughter after customer plunged down cellar steps
Jailed: Bar landlord David Bell was sentenced to two years in a rare case of gross negligence manslaughter
A landlord has been jailed for manslaughter after a man plunged to his death through a cellar door and remained undiscovered for three days – because the bar owner was on a health and safety course.
James Teasdale, 36, who was on a night out with friends, could have mistaken the cellar door for the gents’ toilet, a court heard.
But today, in a rare case of gross negligence manslaughter, David Bell, 51, the landlord of Zest bar in Scarborough, was jailed for two years.
Leeds Crown Court heard that Bell had failed to lock the door, despite there being several occurrences of patrons mistaking it for a toilet or falling through it, resulting in injuries.
Ironically, Bell was away to attend course which would educate him on the risks to customers that his bar may pose the day after the accident which claimed Teasdale’s life.
He had already repeatedly postponed attending the course since he took over the lease.
Prosecuting, Jonathan Sharp told the court that careless Bell had taken over Zest bar in North Yorkshire, as landlord in July 2009.
Mr Sharp explained that a door leading down concrete steps to the cellar was situated directly off the area where the ladies’ and disabled toilets were, with just a note written on A4 paper saying ‘Private No Entry.’
Mr Sharp said: ‘This arrangement presented an obvious risk of fatal injury to visitors on the premises, and it was incumbent on the occupier of the premises… to assess the risk and then to take appropriate steps to minimise it.’
Bell had adequate warning of the danger the arrangement presented, starting with an incident which occurred just over a month after he took over the premises in August 2009.
Preventable death: Graphic designer James Teasdale, 36, fell to his death down a flight of stairs through a door that had been left unlocked by licensee David Bell
A young customer had been in the bar and went to the look for the toilets but mistook the cellar door for the gents’, finding himself plunging down the steps.
He hit his head, causing severe bleeding and permanent scarring, knocking himself out in the process. He managed to clamber back up before a paramedic was called and he was taken to hospital.
Bell admitted the situation with the cellar but made no attempt to correct it and didn’t even clean the blood off the steps.
There were also further incidents where a customer fell into the cellar while using a nearby cigarette machine, escaping with minor injuries, and another banged his head.
For a short period after these incidents, Bell had the door locked but then claimed the key was lost or stolen, leaving the hazard in place once again.
He did arrange for a new lock to be fitted, and it was due to be put in place the week after Mr Teasdale’s death.
On Sunday, July 11 last year, James finished work before joining friends for some drinks and got up to go to the toilet.
Mr Sharp said: ‘When he announced he was going to the gents’, one of his friends offered, in view of his state, to walk him there.
‘He, however, refused that offer and went alone. He did not return.’
Mr Teasdale either mistook the door for the gents’ toilet or fell through, tumbling down the stairs and banging his head on the basement floor.
He suffered substantial brain and head injuries as well as multiple other injuries to his body.
He remained conscious, but concussed, for between one and four hours after the fall and attempted to pull himself back up the stairs before crawling into another room in the cellar where he died.
His body was not discovered for another three days, until Wednesday, as the bar had been closed on Monday and Tuesday with Bell away on a health and safety course.
Mr Sharp said: ‘The freeholders of the premises had asked him (Bell) to go on a course as soon as he took over the lease but he had repeatedly postponed this.
‘As it happened he was booked to go on such a course the day after the fatal accident.’
After the premises were re-opened it was also discovered that there had been a spare key for the cellar door lock all along.
Sentencing Bell, who had admitted manslaughter at an earlier hearing, Judge Mr Justice Spencer said: ‘As a result of your actions a young man aged only 36 lost his life.
‘I have read the moving witness statement from his family. Their distress and utter dismay that such an accident has been allowed to happen is completely understandable.
‘Putting it bluntly, even the most elementary risk assessment would have shown that this was an accident waiting to happen, but it was in fact an accident that had happened twice already. ‘Despite this you had taken no steps to address this danger.’
Detective Inspector Heather Pearson, who led the North Yorkshire Police investigation, said after the case: ‘Gross negligence manslaughter is not only rare, it is also a difficult crime to prosecute.
‘This case highlights the ultimate responsibility of business owners and managers to ensure health and safety laws are followed to the highest standards.
‘As we have seen, failure to comply can have devastating consequences.’
Jan Hills, District Crown Prosecutor for CPS North Yorkshire said: ‘The defendant in this case was grossly negligent and committed a clear breach of his duty of care towards his customer, Mr Teasdale.
‘As a result of this, Mr Teasdale lost his life in an incident which was as foreseeable as it was preventable.’
James’s parents Derek and Barbara said in a statement: ‘We are very relieved that justice has been carried out for James and for everybody who knew and loved him.
‘We all miss James greatly and his tragic but preventable death will live with us forever.
Source : Daily Mail (With thanks to Simon Dodd at Peninsula)