Passenger, 91, fell from bus tailgate

Ernest Harper.
Ernest Harper.

The death of an elderly man who fell from a council transport service bus has raised concerns about how the organisation monitors the capabilities of its customers.

An inquest into the death of Ernest Harper, 91, heard how he fell through a gap between the safety rail on the tailgate lift and body of the vehicle and hit his head on the pavement outside his home.

The court heard how Mr Harper had been driven from the Goldington Day Centre to his home in Hanover Court, Bedford, on February 20, where the accident happened.

He was getting off the minibus, operated by Bedford Borough Council, by using the tailgate lift at the rear of the vehicle. He used a three-wheeled trike to help him walk and was standing fully on the lift platform when he fell.

Driver Sharon Munns and passenger assistant Jeff Harris were on duty and neither of them knew Mr Harper well.

In his evidence, Mr Harris described how he had helped Mr Harper on to the lift and was holding the trike steady.

He said: “He collapsed and fell between the rail and the bus. I went to grab him but I saw him hit his head on the pavement. It appeared his legs just gave way.”

They rushed to help Mr Harper and called an ambulance. Mr Harris said paramedics were on the scene in minutes and Mr Harper was transferred to Bedford Hospital 20 minutes later.

During the inquest it became apparent that a risk assessment into Mr Harper’s mobility had been carried out in November 2013 but had not been updated despite him spending seven weeks in hospital over Christmas and New Year.

Information regarding his mobility was not shared between the agencies and staff responsible for his transport, and on the day of the accident there was no request for additional help in boarding or disembarking the bus.

Bedford borough corporate safety officer Julie Richardson said although the bus was ‘of standard design’ there are plans to replace the handrails so they extend into the vehicle by July.

Following his verdict that Mr Harper died from his injuries in hospital, Bedford assistant coroner Ian Pears has ordered the borough council to make public the report into its inquiry into the incident.

Mr Harper’s son Paul Harper told the court his father was “a Bedfordian all his life. He was keen on sport and played tennis into his 80s”.

In a statement read by his barrister, Mr Harper said his family is “pleased the coroner highlighted concerns over the council’s procedures and practices, and has agreed to make recommendations to prevent this from happening to anyone else”.

He added: “Once we have reviewed what the coroner’s final words are, the family will be taking legal advice on taking the matter further.”