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WHSmith has been hit with the biggest fine in the company’s 225-year history after a customer fell nearly 3 meters through an open door at one of its stores.
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Patricia Rodway had gone to a branch of the retailer in Taunton, Somerset, to buy a birthday card for her boyfriend when she “stepped into the void” when staff opened the door to move stock.
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Taunton Crown Court heard that the store normally assigned staff to alert customers when the door was open, but that worker was “not fully prepared” on the day of the incident in February 2014.
“Mrs Rodway stepped into the gap and fell. Her fall [was] only interrupted by a fall on the stairs,” said Jonathan Bates, prosecuting.
“A shop assistant described how Mrs Rodway’s hand caught the chain that held the door open and closed it completely or partially.
“The shop assistant got away with bruises and was lucky she didn’t follow Mrs. Rodway headfirst into the hole.”
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Mrs Rodway, now 64, fell 2.95 meters into the basement and suffered multiple injuries, including a cut to her head and a broken ankle.
“The consequences for her and her family for previously caring for her husband are emotionally devastating and physically ongoing,” he said.
A subsequent health and safety investigation into the incident by Taunton Deane Council found the company had similar covers in two of its UK stores.
One, at a store in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, the local authority said, “exposed similar hazards”, while another branch in Southwold, Suffolk, had a “similarly inadequately controlled basement”.
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James Ageros, defending, offered his apology on behalf of the seller to Ms Rodway, who was in the courtroom for the hearing.
“She took health and safety seriously, but unfortunately there was an outage to those systems in relation to this incident.”
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A company spokesman said: “WHSmith always puts the safety of customers and staff first. Despite the measures in place, a customer was unfortunately injured in 2014 at our Taunton store.
“Following the incident a thorough review was completed, changes were made to prevent this from happening again and we apologized to the customer.”
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