Firm admits safety breaches over lift death

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A lift company today admitted breaching health and safety laws after a young banker was crushed to death.

Polish-born Katarzyna Woja, 32, was the last of seven people to leave a lift at Broadgate Health Club in the City of London in March 2003 when she was crushed after the lift fell and she was trapped between the lift and the shaft.

Lift company ThyssenKrupp Elevator UK Ltd pleaded guilty at Southwark Crown Court in London to breaching health and safety laws.

The firm will be sentenced along with gym company Holmes Place Health Clubs on May 14.

Nicholas Purnell QC, representing the lift firm, pleaded guilty on its behalf to one count of failing to discharge its duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The company admitted failing "to conduct its undertaking in such a way as to ensure that persons not in its employment were not thereby exposed to risks to their safety".

These failures included not maintaining the lift between street level and the health club in an adequate state of repair; failing to maintain the lift in accordance with its contractual obligations; and failing to adequately investigate or identify the cause or causes of previous sudden failures.

Outside court, Ms Woja's widower, Nebojsa Dorontic, 39, said the family felt "robbed of justice" and was "very angry and very upset".

He said that, after seven years, the firm had been able to plead guilty in just 11 minutes with none of the evidence being heard.

"The family will probably never know what exactly happened," he said.

"This is a very bitter pill to swallow.

"So that is why we feel we have been robbed of justice.

"We are not happy with the time it has took to come to this point.

"We don't have a 'sorry' yet."

ThyssenKrupp Elevator UK, one of the world's leading lift companies, pleaded guilty today, on what should have been the first day of its trial. It had previously denied similar health and safety breaches.

Serbian-born Mr Dorontic, who runs a recruitment company and lives in south west London, said his wife was working for global management group Invesco and had been a "high flyer" at the time of her death.

His lawyer, Keith Barrett, of Irwin Mitchell, said Mr Dorontic was still pursuing a civil claim for millions of pounds.

Ms Woja was earning a six-figure salary at the time of her death and had many years of high earning ahead of her, he said.

Later, Mr Dorontic added that he was "bewildered" by how long the case had taken.

"Today's hearing leaves nothing but unanswered questions and a very sour taste in the mouth of all concerned," he said.

"By not having a full trial, the remaining members of Katarzyna's family and I may never know why she died and that is the least we deserve after all this time.

"After seven long years, the companies involved have walked away determined that they will never have to explain why simple maintenance was not carried out that would have saved my wife's life."

He said the accident on March 12, 2003 was "totally preventable" and involved "total irresponsibility from ThyssenKrupp".

Mr Dorontic went on: "My wife was a charming and intelligent woman with whom I was very much in love.

"She went to work that morning as usual but by lunchtime my life had been ripped apart."

Gym company Holmes Place Health Clubs has already admitted three counts of breaching health and safety laws under the Health and Safety at Work Act. It will also be sentenced in May.

Mr Barrett said the guilty pleas had "deprived" Mr Dorontic of the right to establish why simple repairs were not made which would have meant his wife was still alive today.

He said the lift had suffered previous failures, including a sudden drop the day before.

"If a bus or a train is known to be faulty, you take it out of service and wouldn't let people on," Mr Barrett said.

"This should have been no different.

"Despite both defendants now having pleaded guilty, we are still no closer to understanding why Ms Woja died.

"Both defendants have taken years to admit fault for turning a gym lift into a death trap and have even made two attempts to get the criminal case against them struck out.

"Yet they are still to explain why basic maintenance was not carried out."