Fatal Accident Inquiry into the death of Gordon Stewart Lennon

Summary of the Determination issued by Sheriff Alasdair MacFadyen SHERIFFDOM OF GRAMPIAN, HIGHLAND AND ISLANDS AT DINGWALL

A Fatal Accident Inquiry into the death of Gordon Stewart Lennon, born 15 February 1983, has found that the cause of death was electrocution.  At the time of his death Mr Lennon was a part-time professional footballer with Dumbarton Football Club.

On Friday 5 June 2009, Mr Lennon arrived in Inverness with his family.  They were visiting his fiancée’s sister Sarah Hampton and her husband James Hampton for the weekend.  They were due to stay in Inverness until Monday 8 June 2009.

During  the weekend, Mr Hampton received a call from his friend Fraser Hughes inviting him to go off-road driving at the Brahan Estate on Sunday 7 June 2009.  He initially declined due to Mr Lennon's visit.  However, having discussed the matter with Mr Lennon, Mr Hampton telephoned Mr Hughes and asked if both Mr Hampton and Mr Lennon could come along to the Brahan Estate on the Sunday.  Arrangements were made for Mr Hampton and Mr Lennon to attend.  Mr Hampton was to be a passenger in the vehicle of John Martin, Mr Hughes' brother.  Mr Lennon was to be a passenger in Mr Hughes' vehicle.  The deceased had no experience in off-road driving.

A Fatal Accident Inquiry found that the cause of the accident which led to Mr Lennon’s death was that the vehicle, a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon 230 GE 4 wheel drive motor vehicle, driven by Fraser Hughes, in which the deceased was a passenger, was travelling too fast for the conditions on a track within a wood in Brahan Estate in the vicinity of an obvious electricity pole.  The vehicle struck the wooden electricity pole which was broken by the impact of the collision.  That caused the conductors or power lines to drop.  One of the conductors became caught under the front bumper of the vehicle and shortly thereafter electricity passed through Mr. Lennon’s body.
The accident would have been avoided if Fraser Hughes, the driver of the G-Wagon, had firstly driven with sufficient care and attention and maintained proper control of his vehicle and secondly if he had driven at a lower speed appropriate to the conditions as he approached the electricity pole.
The electricity pole which was struck and the local electricity grid and supply it supported was operated by Scottish Hydro Electric Power Distribution Limited (‘Scottish Hydro Electric’). There were no defects either in the equipment or in the system operated which had a material impact on the accident. There can be no criticism of the delayed auto reclose relay feature set up to restore power after the system had automatically tripped off the live supply when it detected a sudden disruption or surge in the current. The circumstances of the accident involved several such episodes of tripping off and reclosing of the supply before the supply at the locus was finally switched off.  The statutory and other responsibilities and duties owed by Scottish Hydro Electric to their customers including customers who may have been harmed or prejudiced by sudden withdrawal of electrical power required such a system to be in place so that a transitory event, such as tree branches touching a line in high winds, did not result in the entire area, which in this case covered several thousand businesses and homes, being cut off.

The off-roading activity fell outwith the scope of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 because of the way it was organised and the status of the parties involved and could not therefore be regulated by the Health & Safety Executive.  The sheriff recommends that the Highland Council consider whether off-road events which are open to the public and involve some form of commercial payment should be included in the list requiring a public entertainment licence in terms of section 41 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 .

The sheriff further recommends that Northern Constabulary review its policy on the investigation of vehicle collisions which do not occur on the public highway to ensure, so far as practicable, that evidence is appropriately and timeously gathered and preserved. 

The evidence presented during the FAI described a terrifying sequence of events.  While all of those present immediately after the accident did what they could to assist Mr. Lennon the sheriff praised the conduct of Mr. James Hampton, who it seems had no regard for his own safety and jumped over what may have been a live electricity conductor in order to try to rescue Mr. Lennon and to carry out CPR on him until the arrival of the ambulance personnel.

“Mr. Lennon’s death can only be described as tragic and untimely.  I offer my personal condolences to all of his family”.  Sheriff Alasdair MacFadyen

The full Determination can be found here