Two men died after 'catastrophic' stairlift welding fault

James Bell and George Bathmaker Image copyright PA
Image caption James Bell and George Bathmaker died within three months of each other in 2013

Two elderly men died after their stairlifts snapped following a "catastrophic failure" in a welding joint, a coroner has said.

James Bell, of Ramsgate, Kent, and George Bathmaker, of Mitcham, south London, both aged 79, died within three months of each other in 2013.

Dr Shirley Radcliffe recorded a verdict of accidental death after a joint inquest at Westminster Coroner's Court.

West Yorkshire company Acorn Stairlifts has accepted responsibility.

Coroner on holiday

"Investigations revealed there had been a catastrophic failure of a welding joint between the tubular seat post and the attachment plate," Dr Radcliffe said.

She said it had occurred as a result of "inadequate welding at the time of manufacture".

The inquest heard Mr Bell sustained head and chest injuries and Mr Bathmaker suffered a spinal injury and cardiac arrest after their stairlifts snapped and they fell downstairs.

Both men had been using Acorn Superglide 120 models.

Acorn's lawyer Gary Lewis told the inquest a dealer had contacted the company about a month after Mr Bell died at his home in July 2013, saying the Kent coroner had been informed.

Despite enquiring twice about Mr Bell's death the company did not get a reply until the end of September as the coroner was on holiday.

By the time of the reply on 30 September Mr Bathmaker had also died.

Major recall

The company, based in Steeton, said it was "distraught and shocked" on realising there may have been a link between the deaths.

Group compliance manager William Waddell said the news of a second death prompted a major recall.

A total of 43,556 stairlifts were sold directly by Acorn, with a further 14,054 sold through dealers.

"Everyone now has been contacted in some way," said Mr Waddell.

"We have exhausted every avenue to try and find the stairlifts."

Caroline Killbride, of West Yorkshire Trading Standards, said the firm's rectification programme was appropriate in line with its obligations and that it had sufficient recall procedures.

Image caption Diane Lee and Sonia Dutton said they hoped nothing like their father's death would happen again

After the inquest Mr Bell's daughters Diane Lee and Sonia Dutton said they wanted justice for their father and to prevent anything like his death happening again.

"It's appalling," said Ms Lee. "The stairlift was put in to prevent an accident happening and it proved to be the death of him."

Mr Bathmaker's son Daniel said not enough had been done after the death of Mr Bell.

"My family would like to say that whilst we accept the coroner's verdict of death by accident we do not accept that every effort was made by Kent Constabulary, Kent Coroner's Office and Acorn at the time of Mr Bell's death that could have prevented the death of my father."

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