Bell-ringer sues church for damages after practice session injury

Steven Tomsett, 18, broke both ankles in the 'terrifying' incident while bell ringing

Steven Tomsett, 18, broke both ankles in the 'terrifying' incident while bell ringing

Steven Tomsett, 18, broke both ankles in the ‘terrifying’ incident while bell ringing

A bell-ringer who thought he was going to die when he was flung into the air during a practice session is suing the church for damages.

Steven Tomsett, 18, broke both ankles in the ‘terrifying’ incident at St Helen’s Church in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

The trainee engineer also damaged his right leg and injured his lower back when he was sent flying into the air in January after the wooden stay which keeps the bell upright was broken.

Mr Tomsett, who was 17 at the time of the accident, said: ‘I was pulled quickly up into the air and just remember looking down and seeing everybody’s faces looking up at me. It was terrifying and was one of those moments when you think you are going to die. I thought is this really happening to me?

‘At about 20ft up I let go and came crashing down and then heard somebody shouting for me to let go.

‘The pain I felt was just indescribable. I was in absolute agony. It’s fair to say I was using language that shouldn’t probably be used in church.’

The wooden stay, which was broken at the time of the incident, is designed to keep the bell in an upright position between ringing, when the bell is stood. 

The trainee engineer damaged his right leg and injured his lower back when he was sent flying

The trainee engineer damaged his right leg and injured his lower back when he was sent flying

The trainee engineer damaged his right leg and injured his lower back when he was sent flying

The teenager was rescued from the church tower by the fire service who winched him to the floor, as a stretcher could not be taken along the spiral staircase to the bell ringing room.

Mr Tomsett, who is being represented by law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, is making a personal injury claim against the church and says the incident has left him in ‘constant pain’.

I was in absolute agony. It’s fair to say I was using language that shouldn’t probably be used in church 

He said: ‘I’m taking action against the church as this whole thing was avoidable if the bells had been maintained properly.

‘I’m the only one who has suffered. I lost my job, I’m in constant pain and now the church has said what happened is not their fault. It doesn’t seem right.’

A Christian community has worshipped at the site of St Helen’s since at least 995 AD, with the present structure first taking shape in 1180.

Mr Tomsett, 18, was injured in the incident at St Helen's Church in Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Mr Tomsett, 18, was injured in the incident at St Helen's Church in Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Mr Tomsett, 18, was injured in the incident at St Helen’s Church in Abingdon, Oxfordshire

The church’s website states that the building had major renovations in the Georgian and late Victoria era – and a new ring of bells was installed in the tower in 2006. 

The Diocese of Oxford, in which St Helen’s is located, has been asked for comment.

Dr Christopher O’Mahony, president of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, told MailOnline: ‘We were very saddened to hear of Steven’s accident when it occurred in January 2018, and we wish him a complete and speedy recovery.

‘Bellringers take health and safety very seriously, and incidents of this nature are thankfully very rare. 

‘The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers has well established safety and maintenance guidelines for bell towers to ensure that ours is a low-risk activity.

‘The ringers of St Helen’s Abingdon in particular are justifiably proud of their training and safety record, taking appropriate action when the incident occurred.

Firefighters winched him to the floor because a stretcher could not be taken to the room

Firefighters winched him to the floor because a stretcher could not be taken to the room

Firefighters winched him to the floor because a stretcher could not be taken to the room

‘Week after week over many centuries, throughout the UK and across the world, volunteers ring bells in celebration or in sadness, calling out to their local communities on occasions both sacred and civic. 

‘Often described as part of the ‘soundscape of the nation’, our bellringing heritage is actively pursued by over 30,000 individuals on a regular basis in complete safety.

‘This coming Sunday, on the historic centenary of the 1918 Armistice, bellringers will be taking part in one of the largest massed ringing events ever undertaken, as we acknowledge those who made the supreme sacrifice in wartime.

‘Whilst extending every sympathy to Steven for his very unfortunate experience, bellringers and members of the public can be reassured that ringing is a safe and enjoyable activity, offering many health and social benefits.’


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