Inquest rules St Albans City FC fan Clive Churchhouse’s death was accidental
PUBLISHED: 16:35 07 June 2018 | UPDATED: 16:56 07 June 2018
St Albans City Football Club’s managers did not know a volunteer was fixing their roof until he fell through it, leading to his death, an inquest heard.
A jury was present at Hertfordshire coroner’s court on Wednesday, June 6 for the inquest into the death of Clive Churchhouse at the club’s Clarence Park ground on Tuesday, June 18 last year.
Opening proceedings, coroner Geoffrey Sullivan said: “He was a passionate supporter of St Albans City Football Club and had been a fan since he was young.
“When he retired 10 years or so before his death, he became a willing volunteer at the club.”
The 71-year-old married father lived on Down Edge in Redbourn and was one of several volunteers who regularly carried out unpaid tasks at the ground and had keys to the site given to him by the club.
On the morning of his death, he arrived at the ground at 9.20am and spoke with club secretary Tom Norman in the latter’s office.
Mr Churchhouse asked Mr Norman to help him unload materials out of his car, but he was busy.
At 9.30am, fellow volunteer John Jones arrived at the ground and Mr Churchhouse asked him to come help him on the east stand of the ground in 20 minutes.
When Mr Jones met Mr Churchhouse, he was standing by a ladder leant up against the roof of the east stand and asked Mr Jones to hand up some planks, which Mr Jones thought were being used to repair the roof.
As Mr Churchhouse was climbing up the ladder, he tried to move some branches out of his way and Mr Jones said he would go fetch the secateurs.
As he walked to fetch these, he heard a crash from where Mr Churchhouse had been.
He assumed one of the planks he had leant up had fallen over, but when he came over he saw Mr Churchhouse lying on the terrace steps and a hole in the roof where one had not previously been.
Mr Jones called Tom Norman, who phoned for an ambulance.
East of England Ambulance Service arrived at the ground at 10.24am and found Mr Churchhouse at the bottom of the stand surrounded by broken debris from the roof.
Paramedics treated him until an air ambulance landed on the pitch at 10.51am, which transferred Mr Churchhouse to hospital with suspected multiple injuries.
He had suffered a cardiac arrest due to the fall and was in arrest when the helicopter arrived at St George’s Hospital in London at 11.40am.
They intubated him and continuously performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and gave him a number of shots from the defibrilator.
At 11.55am, CPR was discontinued and Clive Churchhouse’s death was confirmed.
At the inquest, the coroner also read out a statement from the police, who attended the ground while the paramedics were treating Mr Churchhouse.
Their overall conclusion was there was nothing suspicious about his death, so the investigation was handed over to the Health and Safety Executive.
The executive’s representative, Sandra Dias, told the inquest the roof of the stand that Mr Churchhouse had fallen through was made of corrugated cement boards.
He had roofing felt and bitumen with him to fix the roof and it is believed he was using the planks to crawl along the roof.
Ms Dias said crawl boards had to be wider than planks and on a stable surface which would not fall through.
Although Ms Dias said one of the other volunteers knew the east stand was leaking, the club’s co-owner Lawrence Levy did not, nor did Tom Norman, so they were unaware Mr Churchhouse was going to fix it.
Mr Norman said: “If I knew Clive was going to go up there, I would have told him not to.”
As the club had given Mr Churchhouse keys and invited him on the site, it had a duty of care, said Ms Dyas.
The executive told the club following the death it had to install signs on the roof warning people it was fragile.
Mr Sullivan considered giving the jury a choice between deciding on a determination of accidental death in the case of Clive Churchhouse, or a determination with an addendum saying his death was contributed to by the club not having taken sufficient steps to ensure the volunteers’ safety with equipment and guidance.
But the family said they did not want the club to be prosecuted in any way as it was Mr Churchhouse’s “other family” and he would have gone onto the roof regardless of signs, so the coroner directed the jury to return a conclusion of accidental death, which they did.