Bell ringer comes a cropper in church tower accident

Amol Rajan
Friday 16 May 2008 00:00

A bell ringer broke his collarbone after becoming entangled in a rope at the top of a church tower.

Tony Merry was hoisted 3ft off the belfry floor when the rope caught his trousers. Stuck fast in the cramped upper reaches of St Mary's Church in Charlbury, Oxfordshire, he had to be rescued by firefighters and paramedics. They used a pulley to lower him through a trap door 15ft above ground and down on to a stretcher below.

Recovering at home yesterday, Mr Berry, 58, said: "Nothing like this has ever happened before – it gave me a real shock. I think a bunch of keys got caught in the rope and I was pulled about 3ft off the floor. The shock made me black out and I lost consciousness and fell to the ground and bashed my shoulder. The paramedics gave me morphine to help with the pain and then I was conscious throughout the rescue."

Mr Merry, a chemistry research fellow at Manchester University, lives in Charlbury and has been a bell ringer at St Mary's for three years. He added: "The belfry is up a narrow wooden spiral staircase and there was no way they could lower me down that, so they had to use a trap-door in the floor.

"We all know about the trap-door because some of our ringers are quite elderly and it has been pointed out as a possible escape route if someone has a heart attack, but I never imagined that I would be coming through it myself."

The alarm was raised by other campanologists. "I was standing by him at the time," said Mike Summers, the churchwarden. "It was not his fault. The rope just caught him and tripped him up, lifting him off the ground, and he fell heavily. You have to be vigilant when bell ringing because accidents can happen".

Mr Summers and the other ringers decided not to move Mr Merry in case they aggravated his injuries. When emergency crews arrived, they quickly discovered the cramped conditions would make a conventional call-out rather complicated. Bob Swanton, the incident commander, said: "We couldn't use our aerial platform and there was no side window, so the only way was through the trap door. It was very lucky he fitted through – as we lowered him there was only an 18in gap to squeeze past."

The accident has not deterred Mr Merry from bell ringing, however. "As soon as my collarbone heals I will be straight back doing it again," he said.

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