Lancaster man saves mum and baby from lift crush horror

Terry Gargan.
Terry Gargan.

A dad-of-four with heart problems rushed to save a mum and baby from being crushed to death in a lift.

Terence Gargan, from Lancaster, was shopping with his wife when he heard the screams of Hayley Melling.

I thought: ‘We need to open the door” and we pulled as hard as we could to force it

Terence Gargan

The mum was forced to push the lift upwards as it nearly crushed her and her one-year-old daughter Nevaeh at JD Sports Deepdale Retail Park, Preston.

Horrified shoppers Mr Gargan and Martin Coe worked together to force the metal and glass lift door off its benders to release them, with Mr Gargan hurting his foot.

Despite having serious heart problems, including cardiomyopathy, Mr Gargan rushed to save the mum who could be seen battling for her life through the glass.

Mr Gargan, who had been discharged from hospital days earlier after treatment for heart failure, said: “My wife took me shopping for some trainers because I was bored of being in the house.

“We were on our way out of the shop and heard screaming and shouting and a man was pulling on the door. I thought someone was having a panic in the lift but as I looked through the glass panel I saw the lady and pushchair with the lift coming down on top.

“You don’t think - you just help. I thought: ‘We need to open the door” and we pulled as hard as we could to force it.

“As it opened it hit my toe. She was crouched down trying to hold the lift up with her hand. Breaking the door stopped it - I dread to think what would have happened if it hadn’t. The other mum and her children slid down through the opening and we carried them out. They were hysterical.

“I was scared myself. We just left - I’ve not been in a lift since.”

Miss Melling had asked for assistance to reach the first floor at JD Sports but was let into the lift shaft as another mum, Kerry Schofield, was coming down in the lift with her children, Preston Crown Court heard.

Mr Gargan, who is a joiner, rang the store to see how the mum and baby were when he got home, but despite his heroics he says nobody has been in touch since, apart from the firm, which paid him £700 compensation from a civil hearing for the injury to his foot.

JD Sports Fashion Ltd has been fined £66,667 and ordered to pay £13,896.25 costs and a £100 surcharge.

Preston Crown Court heard a safety mechanism meant the door to the lift would not open if it was already in use.

However, a member of staff obtained the override key and unlocked the door, allowing Miss Melling, from Blackpool, into the space with her pushchair, back in September 2012.

Kerry Schofield, and her two children were accessing the lift on the first floor of the store to come down.

The lift platform started descending to where the mum and her baby were - they could not escape as the door lock safety mechanism had kicked in again as the lift was moving.

Prosecuting, Sophie Cartwright said: “But for the intervention of other shoppers it is highly probable that Hayley Melling and her infant daughter would have sustained fatal or serious injuries. In any event Hayley Melling’s statement describes the back problems, emotional distress and psychological disturbance this incident has caused to her.”

She described a shocking catalogue of safety failures including two faults with the lift being reported almost a year earlier in 2011 - including an intermittent fault with the door lock at ground level - but no repairs were undertaken.

A HM Specialist Inspector found the employee had “defeated one of the normal safeguards” on the lift by using the override key and staff were routinely using the emergency release key to “circumvent the faults present”.

Preston City Council’s environmental health team brought a prosecution against JD Sports Fashion plc under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Miss Cartwright said: “It is the prosecution’s case that the defendant’s failings were present for a considerable period of time leading up to the incident itself and that the situation was such that in effect an accident was waiting to happen.”

Defending, David Travers said: “This was undoubtedly a very unpleasant and distressing incident. The company profoundly regrets the terrifying experience for Miss Melling and has taken this incident very seriously. There is a testimony of that not just by the steps subsequently taken but by the presence in court of really all the senior people in the company who relate to health and safety.”

Judge Pamela Badley, sentencing, said: “Miss Melling did what she could to call for help - you can imagine the rising sense of panic at that time. Fortunately other members of public were able to force open the lift access door and I’m sure everybody is very grateful to those individuals.

“Had it not been for intervention of other shoppers its highly probable they would have sustained terrible injuries, in fact the whole episode was traumatic for Miss Melling.

“The member of public who intervened suffered problems with his foot as he too had reacted at speed.

“Its good to see she has been able to recover and its is particularly gratifying she is here in court today.”

She said the “sloppy practice” of staff using the override key, which was supposed to be for emergency situations, because they believed the door was sticking had given rise to “inherent dangers”.

But she acknowledge the firm, which otherwise has a good safety record, had been “severely chastened” and had since put into place better practices.