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Cathedral steps are unsafe, says churchwarden

30 October 2020

Paul Stuart has launched a civil case after the death of his wife, Jan, in an accident

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Truro Cathedral

Truro Cathedral

A CHURCHWARDEN in Cornwall, Paul Stuart, has launched a civil case against Truro Cathedral after the death of his wife, Jan, in an accident two years ago. He said that the steps from which she fell were “dangerous”, and that the cathedral needed to act “rapidly” to change this.

Mr Stuart, aged 66, who serves as churchwarden of St Piran’s, Perranarworthal, issued a statement last week through his solicitors Slater and Gordon: “I still see and hear her falling all the time. I continually agonise wondering if I could have caught and saved her. But there have been other accidents on those steps — they’re known locally for being dangerous. . .

“I really think that if those stairs were improved it would help me move on a little, but as it is, I’m tormented that the same could happen to somebody else.”

Mrs Stuart died in 2018, aged 66, after falling from the top of what are known locally as the Chapterhouse stairs outside the cathedral. She had been attending a service at which a friend was being installed as a canon of the cathedral. She was taken into hospital with head injuries, but, after two days, her husband was told that she would not survive, and that her life-support machine would be switched off.

The steps have been closed since March of this year, owing to the pandemic.

Mr Stuart said that the cathedral had not done enough to make them safe. “When the coroner recommended the improvement work, he said he trusted that the cathedral would do something rapidly, but it took them until halfway through the next year: two whole years since Jan died.

“At the inquest, we heard that the cathedral were going to make a decision on proposals for each step to be covered in a fibre grid to make them safer, but this hasn’t been done. . . Some improvement works, such as the handrails, have been made, but they have made no discernible changes to the surface of the steps,” he said.

The head of the occupiers and public-liability department at Slater and Gordon, and Mr Stuart’s legal representative, Michael Hardman, said: “It’s vital that individuals are kept safe when they’re in or around public buildings, and the cathedral have a duty of care to keep visitors safe.”

The Dean of Truro, the Very Revd Roger Bush, said on Tuesday: “Jan’s death continues to be a source of deep sadness to us at the cathedral, and indeed across the wider church community here in Cornwall. We continue to hold Jan and her family in our prayers.

“If matters are to be the subject of legal proceedings, it is probably right that we don’t make any further comment.”

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