The trust which runs Burghley House in Stamford has been fined £266,000 after a butler was crushed to death in a luggage lift.
Arthur Mellar (47) died in hospital hours after his head was crushed in a lift on July 12, 2014, at the Elizabethan country estate.
The Burghley House Preservation Trust was hit with the fine after it had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to one count of failing to ensure the welfare of their employee.
The fine was handed out by Judge Sean Enright at today’s sentencing (Monday, February 27) at Peterborough Crown Court.
The trust will also have to pay £16,861.35 in costs.
With members of the deceased’s family present, Jamas Hodivala, representing the Health Safety Executive, told the court that Mr Mellar died after the luggage lift in a private part of the house fell on him while he was trying to free an item of jammed luggage.
The luggage was being sent up to guests when it became stuck between the first and second floor.
He said: “There should have been fitted a slack rope detection device which would have stopped this from happening. If that had been installed that would have prevented the accident from occurring.”
The device was standard in the industry back in the late 1950s/early 1960s when the lift was first used, the court heard.
However, Mr Hodivala said no competent lift engineer had ever inspected the lift.
He added: “The defence accepts that had the lift been properly inspected, the slack rope detection device would probably have been installed.”
The court also heard of previous incidents where the lift had become jammed and that there was “no effective way of keeping luggage in the lift car.”
Mr Hodivala said Mr Mellar had been the head butler since 2006 and was “generally considered to be part of the Burghley family.”
Turning to the events of July 12, he said the staff had been told to leave the luggage as it would be sorted out later.
However, the nanny later found Mr Mellar stuck in the lift where he was heard to be making “groaning sounds.”
Mr Hodivala said Mr Mellar’s head and shoulders were in the lift and that he was trapped inside. “The lift was fitted by a single wire rope with no counter balance rope,” he said.
“There was no safety gear fitted to prevent the lift from descending rapidly.”
Sarah Le Fevre, defending, said: “Mr Mellar was much loved and valued. His loss has been keenly felt by all those knew him, who worked with him and who loved him.
“The trust sincerely regrets the events and circumstances that led to his death.”
She said the trust exceeds its health and safety obligations and has decommissioned the luggage lift, while she described the failure to install the slack rope detection device as an “aberration in an otherwise robust system.”
She said: “The lift is infrequently used. It had been in use for a period of some 50 years at the time of the accident at which time there had been no incident of injury of any kind. Further, there were no incidents of near misses.”
Judge Enright described Mr Mellars’ death as a tragedy and described the butler as “respected and loved by those who knew him.”
He added: “I recognise in particular the impact of this incident on Mr Castillo [his partner] and also the family at Burghley.
“I find the culpability is high - a failure to put in place measures that were standard in the industry, no health and safety inspection, a failure to respond to defects on the lift which had been flagged up as a result of the apparently minor incidents.
“The risk to me was obvious, or should have been obvious. But it was an aberration in an otherwise robust health and safety policy.”
Judge Enright said the infrequent use of the lift did not matter, adding: “It’s sheer chance that previous incidents did not have tragic results.”
The fine he ordered took into account that the trust had accepted responsibility for Mr Mellar’s death.
The trust was established in 1969 as a charity to preserve the 15,000 acre estate which is visited by approximately 700,000 people a year.
The court heard that Burghley House brought in an income of £8.4 million according to its latest financial statement, with a profit of £620,000. Its net assets were said to be £62 million.
Following the sentencing, David Pennell, estates director at Burghley House, said: “Health and safety matters have always been paramount across all activities at Burghley, and what happened to Arthur Mellar in July 2014 was a dreadful and tragic accident.
“I know that I speak for all of us at Burghley when I say how much we miss him, and our thoughts are with Gerwin and Arthur’s family at this time.”
A member of Mr Mellar’s family said they were glad it was all over as they walked out of court.