THE family of a pensioner who died after falling down a 10ft lift shaft say they still want answers after a jury ruled her death was an accident.

Doreen Hailstone, 78, died in November last year after she fell down a lift shaft in Warwick Court, in Station Road, Burnham, on November 9.

Mrs Hailstone, a former teacher at the town’s St Mary’s Primary School, died seven days later from pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis and brain damage.

After a two-day inquest into her death last week, a jury ruled her death was an accident.

In a joint statement, Mrs Hailstone’s son Bryn Hailstone and daughter Denise Farmer said: “We are grateful for the coroner’s investigation, but despite the inquest, questions still remain as to exactly what happened.

“That is why we have put the matter in to the hands of solicitors at Leigh Day in order to pursue action against Clarion Housing Group who own and manage the premises.

“This was after all, sheltered housing for the elderly and should have been safe and secure for residents.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

Warwick Court in Station Road, Burnham, where Mrs Hailstone lived

“The whole family have been devastated by her untimely death. Mum was a Burnham resident for 45 years and was a prominent and very active person in the community.

“She taught at St Mary’s Primary school from 1972 until her retirement and was a Lady Captain at Burnham Golf Club.

“She had also been a member of Burnham Flower Club for the past 25 years, as well as attending All Saints Church, Creeksea, where she did readings and arranged flowers.

“My sister Denise and I and Doreen’s eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, whom she loved dearly, miss her terribly.” The inquest heard Mrs Hailstone lived in one of the six flats on the first floor of Warwick Court.

She was one of only two people using the lift, due to movement difficulties after a stroke.

The lift was a single platform which is operated by a start button on both floors. Once at a floor, the door would be opened to allow her to step on it. When the platform is not on first floor, the door is supposed to be locked.

But the jury was told Mrs Hailstone had managed to open the door when on the first floor, despite the platform being on the ground floor, resulting in her stepping into the shaft and falling.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

Mrs Hailstone fell eight to ten feet down the shaft at Warwick Court

Hillary Winstone, representing Mrs Hailstone’s family, argued the lift may have been tampered with.

She said: “The lift door was open when it shouldn’t have been, and a bolt in the door was preventing it from closing. In order to get that bolt in that position, you would need a special tool.

“This could suggest it was damaged, it could suggest that children or youths may have got into the court and played around with it.

Solicitor's civil claim and housing group's response

THE family’s solicitor David Preston says Mrs Hailstone’s family are set to pursue a civil claim against housing association Clarion.

He said: “The expert evidence at the inquest confirmed that the lift was working correctly when it was inspected after the incident.”

It is not known how Mrs Hailstone was able to open the door of the lift when the lift platform was not in the right position.

He added: “In addition, the evidence heard that tools needed to override the lift’s emergency lock system were stored in an unlocked cupboard close to the lift.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

The main entrance to Warwick Court, sheltered housing owned by Clarion Housing Group

“The jury at the inquest also heard that lighting around the lift was poor, the lift platform was dark and it would have been difficult for Mrs Hailstone to see whether the platform was in the correct position before she entered the lift.

“The family still want answers as to what happened and an apology. We are continuing with a civil claim against Clarion Housing Group.”

A spokesman for Clarion Housing Group added: “We are truly saddened by the death of Doreen Hailstone and would like to express our deepest sympathy to her family and friends.

“We note that Essex Coroner’s Court ruled on that Doreen Hailstone had died due to an accident.”

The spokesman added the lift was found to be a “very good condition” after an inspection by a Health and Safety Executive engineer.”