Belfast Telegraph

Coroner warns over ladder dangers after death of man in fall

By Brett Campbell

A Coroner has expressed concern over the number of fatalities caused by men falling off ladders after an inquest heard a retired Co Antrim butcher died from "catastrophic" brain injuries following an accident.

George Backus (61) was discovered unconscious in the driveway of his Ballymoney home on May 4, just two days before he was due to travel to South Africa to celebrate his 40th wedding anniversary with his wife Anne.

"We had just had lunch together and he told me he had some jobs to do before I left the house at 12.30pm," she told Coroner Patrick McGurgan.

"He wrote a list every February of things that needed done. He had already been working on the guttering and roof tiles but he hadn't finished the high bits. George was methodical, it was just the way he was."

The 60-year-old left her husband to go to a hairdressing appointment, but within hours she received a devastating phone call to say her husband was in a serious condition in the Causeway Hospital.

The father-of-two was discovered by a relative who was out walking his dog.

Rodney Marks had passed the house at around 2.45pm on what was a bright and sunny day when he thought there was plastic sheeting in the driveway.

On closer inspection he discovered it was Mr Backus, who had been wearing an old butcher's uniform.

"He was lying on his back tangled in the support strap which was wrapped around his waist and he was bleeding from his right ear, nose and mouth," Mr Marks said.

"He wasn't really breathing, it was congested and very laboured - it sounded like snoring. He wasn't able to communicate at all."

Mr Backus was admitted to the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator, but his family were informed that scan results showed extensive fractures and serious brain injuries.

"It was obvious from the first CT scan that his injuries were catastrophic. There was no chance of him recovering," Dr Sengottaiyan told the coroner.

Mrs Backus wiped away tears as she listened to the consultant anaesthetist explain that no attempt was made to transfer her husband to the Royal Victoria Hospital due to the severity of his injuries.

Dr Sengottaiyan told the Coroner's Court in Ballymena that further tests showed there was no brain stem function, which led doctors to determine "life was extinct" at 12.03 on May 5.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Johnston said that there was "no evidence of natural disease" which contributed to the fall or subsequent death of an otherwise "physically healthy" man.

"The traumatic injuries to the skull were more prominent to the right side of the head and there was significant damage to cells in the brain," he added.

"While this was not immediately fatal, I absolutely believe he was unconscious from the moment of impact." Mr McGurgan said he hoped the fact that there was minimal suffering would be a source of comfort to the family.

Dr Johnston also confirmed there was no evidence of intoxication, before the coroner said he was satisfied that Mr Backus died as result of a brain injury due to falling from a height.

Mr McGurgan then warned of the dangers involved in climbing ladders.

"I'm becoming concerned with the number of fatalities involving men and ladders - it's a case of people not thinking about the risks," he said.

"George, who was so meticulous and methodical in life, probably did it all the time.

"Anne lost not only her husband, but her soulmate.

"It was made even more tragic because it was on the mouth of celebrating something so special."

Belfast Telegraph

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