Pensioner raises safety concerns after being trapped in St Albans lift

The lift in Drovers Way car park

The lift in Drovers Way car park - Credit: Archant

A pensioner was trapped in a busy city centre car park lift for 40 minutes after no-one responded to the alarm button.

The lift in Drovers Way car park

The lift in Drovers Way car park - Credit: Archant

It was only when he managed to prize open the doors of the lift in the Drovers Way/Russell Avenue car park that John Tillin, 85, who lives in Harpenden, was freed.

He has highlighted his ordeal because of his concerns about the safety of the lift and the lack of response to the alarm button.

Mr Tillin regularly uses the car park, owned by the district council and managed by NCP, and travels up and down in the lift because of knee problems which mean difficulties using the stairs.

On Wednesday, July 1, he had noticed that the lift was out of order but was stuck in a queue to get into the car park and could not reverse. Fortunately he found a space on the first floor and only had to walk down a ramp to get to street level.

The lift in Drovers Way car park

The lift in Drovers Way car park - Credit: Archant

Only three days later on Saturday, July 4, he checked to ensure the lift was working and there was no notice to the contrary. He drove up to the top floor, summoned the lift to go down - and then as it was descending, it stopped at 9.50am.

Mr Tillin said that in the lift there was a printed notice giving a phone number for anyone with problems but that was no good without a mobile phone.

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So he pressed both alarm buttons in the lift but there was no answer. He repeatedly pressed the buttons and eventually heard a record message saying that if nothing happened, he should press the buttons again which he did repeatedly.

Finally at 10am someone answered the phone faintly who assured him there was plenty of air in the lift to keep him going and he would phone again in five minutes.

But the minutes passed and still no help arrived. Mr Tillin said: “At 10.05am in some panic I kept calling out, kicking the door and pressing the alarm button. Nothing happened.”

Finally at 10.30 in desperation to started to prize open the doors and as they began to part slightly, he saw a yellow jacketed man on the other side who helped to free him even though he had not been sent there because someone was stuck in the lift.

Mr Tillin said: “He offered me some water to drink due to my ordeal. I asked to see a manager but there was no-one in control and the three staff on duty said they had not received any message to that someone was trapped in the lift.”

After 15 minutes recovering from his ordeal, he went on to the shops and when he returned there was a notice on both the first and third floors of the lift that it was out of order.

Mr Tillin pointed out that if anyone of a more frail disposition or suffered from claustrophobia had been trapped in the lift, the outcome could have been far more serious. He said that the alarm buttons had to be attended to urgently and staff trained to properly deal with such calls as soon as they happened.

He added: “Every member of NCP should be locked in a lift for 40 minutes and see what it feels like.”

Mike Lovelady, St Albans council’s head of legal, democratic and regulatory services, said: “We were sorry to learn of Mr Tillin’s experience when he visited the Drover’s Way car park. We have written to him to apologise.

“NCP manages the car park on our behalf. We have asked the company to carry out an immediate investigation into this incident. This will find out what caused the lift to stop and how the emergency contact procedure can be improved. Various measures will then be agreed with NCP to help prevent this happening again.”

He added: “Mr Tillin will, of course, be informed of the outcome of the investigation and the action being taken. One possible measure we may ask NCP to introduce is an emergency bell in the lift linking direct to the onsite office which is manned 24 hours.”