Muller lift death tragedy was accidental, inquest jury rules

A man who became trapped in a Shropshire factory lift shaft died as the result of an accident, an inquest jury has decided.

The Muller factory in Market Drayton
The Muller factory in Market Drayton

Lift engineer Lewis James McFarlin, aged 24, had been working on the two-tonne L14 goods lift at the Muller yoghurt factory in Shrewsbury Road, Market Drayton, when it suddenly started moving up on the afternoon of January 14, 2020.

The jury heard that Mr McFarlin had no control over the lift, which was in its normal mode when it started to move as part of an automatic reset process.

He became trapped in a gap between the steel box lift and the lift shaft's concrete and masonry walls.

Mr Ellery, with the agreement of Muller's barrister, Tim Pole, told the court that he had the power to write a report to prevent future deaths but had no need to use it because the company has since filled the gap down which Mr McFarlin had fallen.

The jury of six men and three women heard what senior coroner John Ellery called a "fine and loving" tribute from family member Victoria McFarlin at Thursday's final day of a two-day inquest at Shirehall in Shrewsbury.

Mrs McFarlin said Lewis, from Cheadle Road, Stoke-on-Trent, was a "kind and caring person who was much loved".

A lifelong Stoke City supporter, he had been called out to fix a broken lift at a care home on Christmas Day 2019 and stayed to make sure all the residents got back to their rooms while the lift was in its slowest mode.

"We know that Lewis was dedicated to and loved his job," she added.

"He was safety cautious and often commented to family about overloaded sockets, making sure that Hattie his sister who was then two was secure in her car seat."

Mr Ellery told the inquest that they had looked into the regulations covering the issues but that the jury "did not need to go into them."

He said: "The work process is regulated but there is not a need to go into any findings of them."

The work on placing panelling in the gap between the lift box and the lift shaft wall would, Mr Ellery said, mean the same accident can't happen again.

"It couldn't happen again because there is no gap to fall between."

Controls on top of the lift had not been in inspection mode at the time Mr McFarlin died.

Inspection mode means the lift could have been controlled from its, but in normal mode it could not. It also means the lift does not move as fast.

The lift also had an emergency stop button on the roof, but that had not been pressed.

And a Health and Safety electrical inspection had proved that it had been working as it should.

Mr McFarlin's father James and mother Leah Salt were told that they did not need to know the full details of his death, just that it was from multiple traumatic injuries.

Senior Shropshire and Telford coroner John Ellery reminded the jury that the inquest is not a trial to prove guilt or negligence, but to decide on the facts.

"The only conclusion is accidental death," said Mr Ellery in his summing-up.

"It does appear that Lewis took it out of inspection mode, but we can't speculate why.

"But he could not control whether it moved upwards or downwards."

As for what caused the lift to move suddenly, Mr Ellery said there was no evidence that anyone had pushed a button to call the lift up from the second floor.

The court heard that the lift would automatically move to a "terminal position" either up or down if no controls were pressed after 120 seconds.

"The lift will move either to the top or the bottom at its normal speed."

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