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Prosecution after Exeter Quay ferry death

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: January 17, 2013

By Richard Birch

  • Butts Ferry at Exeter Quay

  • Dot Stevens

  • Butts Ferry at Exeter Quay

THE death of a woman who fell into the River Exe after disembarking from a ferry could have been avoided, prosecutors have alleged.

Exeter City Council has been accused of "failing to discharge its duty" with regard to the way passengers accessed the Butts Ferry at Exeter Quay.

It is being prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive over alleged failings which it says contributed to the death of Dot Stevens, 80, in July 2010.

She fell into the River Exe after falling from steps while getting off the ferry.

Two men desperately tried to resuscitate her but she later died at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital.

The boat's operator also dived into the river and tried to keep Mrs Stevens' head above water before two others pulled her to safety and tried to resuscitate her.

At the time, her family have described her death as "horrendous" and said she will be "missed enormously".

The grandmother was well known in Silverton, as a long-standing member of the Women's Institute and Over-60s club.

The charge put to Exeter City Council at Exeter Magistrates Court alleges that it contravened a health and safety regulation.

The HSE says that the city council "failed to discharge the duty imposed on it by the Health & Safety At Work Act in that it failed to conduct its undertaking, namely the means of access to and egress from the Butts Ferry, in such a way as to ensure so far as was reasonably practicable, that persons not in its employment who may have been affected, including Dorothy Stevens, were not thereby exposed to risks".

The city council has not entered a plea and the case has been adjourned until February 6. It is expected to be committed to Exeter Crown Court.

At the time of her death, Mrs Stevens' family called for safety improvements but said they did not blame anyone for her death.

A jury inquest which was held last year concluded that her death was an accident.

Exeter deputy coroner, Darren Salter, was told that Mrs Stevens' walking stick snapped as she struggled to climb steps to Piazza Terracina and she toppled backwards into the water.

The inquest heard from Health and Safety inspector Georgina Speake, who said that Mrs Stevens had to climb a 12-inch step from the landing area, and that the step was an "inconsistent" height compared to the rest of the steps, and there were not enough handrails at the time.

Handrails have since been fitted and two new steps also installed by Exeter City Council.

The council has said it is unable to comment on the matter until the current legal proceedings have ended.

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