Sensors did not stop car park shutter crushing woman to death, inquest concludes

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A woman who was fatally crushed by a rising car park shutter door after she grabbed hold of it died by misadventure after sensors did not stop the door from opening, an inquest concluded.

Social worker Heidi Chalkley, 40, asked her friend: “Have you ever held onto it as it goes up?” before she did so, got her hands trapped and was lifted into the mechanism at the top, the two-day hearing in Huntingdon was told.

Jurors, who took just over an hour to return their conclusion on Tuesday, said that if sensors near the top of the door were “configured and maintained correctly” they were intended to stop the door if a person or object was approaching the mechanism.

But they found the detectors “were actually configured in such a way that they didn’t in fact stop the continued operation of the shutter.

“As a consequence, Ms Chalkley was drawn into the shutter mechanism sustaining fatal multiple injuries.”

The inquest earlier heard that Ms Chalkley’s friend dialled 999 and a neighbour, who saw her hanging 3ft above the ground, tried to support her body until emergency services arrived to Ruth Bagnall Court, a block of flats in Coleridge Road, Cambridge.

But she died at the entrance to the underground car park of her friend’s flat on August 14 2016.

The inquest concluded that she died by misadventure, with a short narrative addition explaining the role of the sensors.

A post-mortem examination recorded Ms Chalkley’s medical cause of death as multiple injuries, noting fractures to her ribs, spine and jawbone.

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

In an earlier statement to the inquest, her friend Susan Gilmore said she parked in the car park and both women walked towards the shutter doors that led out to the street at around 7.25pm.

They planned to go straight out for the evening so did not use the internal doors to the flats, she said.

“We were walking next to each other and Heidi has gone slightly ahead of me and pressed the button,” said Ms Gilmore. “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 said Ms Chalkley “started to panic as her hands got caught in the barrier” and what followed happened in a “matter of seconds”.

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

Ms Chalkley, who lived in New Street, Cambridge, was described by her family as a “beautiful, successful and accomplished young woman”.

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