Mother ‘dragged to death in rising car park shutter door’

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A mother was dragged to her death in the shutter door mechanism of an underground car park after asking her friend “have you ever held onto it as it goes up?”, an inquest heard.

Social worker Heidi Chalkley, 40, was heading on a night out when she grabbed hold of the rising door and was lifted off the ground at the entrance to the car park of her friend’s block of flats in Cambridge.

She panicked as her hands got trapped and was pulled into the machinery, Monday’s inquest in Huntingdon was told.

Her friend Susan Gilmore, who was with her, rang 999 but Ms Chalkley died at the scene on August 14, 2016.

A post-mortem examination recorded she died of multiple injuries, noting fractures to her ribs, spine and jawbone.

It found she had no alcohol or drugs in her system.

In a statement read by Cambridgeshire’s assistant coroner Sean Horstead, Ms Gilmore said it happened at around 7.25pm.

“We had planned to go out for a drink in Cambridge,” she said. “Before going out I planned to drop my car off at home.”

She drove in to the car park as normal, using a clicker to open the door, with the barrier – a metal grille – rising into a box at the top.

Ms Gilmore said she parked and both women walked towards the barrier which goes out on to the street.

“As we planned on going straight out and into town we walked towards the barrier rather than to the internal doors and going into the flat,” she said.

“We were walking next to each other and Heidi has gone slightly ahead of me and pressed the button.

“As it went up Heidi said to me ‘have you ever held onto it as it goes up?’ I said ‘no’.

“She then reached up, held the shutter and it lifted her off the ground.”

She continued: “I thought she would let go but she started to panic as her hands got caught in the barrier.

“Everything happened really quickly in a matter of seconds.”

She said her friend’s legs were hanging down and her body appeared “folded”.

A neighbour, James Spitale, said he heard someone on the phone sounding “incredibly distressed” then saw a woman hanging around 3ft from the ground at the entrance to the car park of Ruth Bagnall Court, a block of flats in Coleridge Road.

In a statement he said there was blood coming from the woman’s mouth, adding: “My immediate thought was to grab her and lift her up.

“I hoped it would release the pressure on her neck and allow her to breathe.”

When emergency services arrived they told him it was too late, he said.

Paul Arnold, a specialist electrical inspector with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said if door sensors had been configured differently “it’s unlikely Ms Chalkley would have sustained fatal injuries”.

In a statement, Ms Chalkley’s family described her as “beautiful, successful and accomplished” and said that without her “this world is a much colder place”.

The inquest is expected to conclude on Tuesday.

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