Worker tells BHS trial of OAP’s plunge down manhole

The Rose Street entrance of Bhs
The Rose Street entrance of Bhs
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A PLUMBER called out to unblock drains at the BHS store in Princes Street has told a court how a pensioner plunged down an open manhole in the shop as she browsed for new lights.

Francis McCann had opened the manhole to inspect the blockages and left it briefly unguarded while he carried out other work.

Francis McCann had placed warning cones around the open manhole

Francis McCann had placed warning cones around the open manhole

The 65-year-old said he had posted three warning cones around the manhole but moments later heard 77-year-old Mollie McGregor shouting for help after falling in.

Mr McCann rescued the elderly woman who was clinging on to the sides of the manhole, which led into sewage pipes.

He was giving evidence at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday as BHS went on trial accused of flaunting health and safety laws at the store which led to the pensioner being 
seriously injured.

Mr McCann, who lives in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, told the court that he had advised staff against carrying out the work during open hours as he feared it was unsafe for customers. But the plumber said he was ordered to unblock the drains following an emergency call-out on 
January 15, 2009.

Mr McCann said that his plumbing firm had assigned him the job and he attended at around 10am that morning with his colleague, his grandson Stephen McCann.

The pair were directed by staff to drains on the lower level where sewage water was leaking onto the shop floor.

He told the court: “The store should never have been open to the public that morning.

“We never discussed risk assessment with anyone from BHS. There was no discussion on safety. We thought it would be safer to work when customers were not present.”

The court heard that the plumbers lifted different manhole covers and found them “choked with sewage” before using rods and plungers to try and unblock them.

Mr McCann, who said that only one manhole was left open at any one time for safety, explained that three cones were placed around one of them while he went to retrieve equipment from nearby.

He added: “About 30 seconds later I heard someone shouting for help and went back to the manhole. There was a lady, quite an elderly lady, who had slipped and went in the manhole.

“I saw her handbag and arms on the floor. To protect herself she must’ve outstretched her arms. I don’t think she slipped into it. I think she stepped into it. I pulled her out.”

He added: “She was quite frail. She had a cut to her head. There were broken lights in the manhole. She had grabbed onto the lights or something.

He added that he spoke briefly to Mrs McGregor and she told him she was “not paying attention” while looking at the lights.

Mr McCann told depute procurator fiscal Tony 
Bonner that he thought the safety cones provided “adequate” warning for shoppers.

A plumber since 1962, he said the cones were “bright”.

British Home Stores denies two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992.

Prosecutors allege that BHS staff failed to make suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to employees and members of the public by having an open manhole. It is alleged that Mrs McGregor, then aged 77, fell through the manhole to her severe injury as a result.

The trial before Sheriff Neil MacKinnon continues.