The family of a drunken wedding guest who died after he fell down steps at a London Underground station have lost their £300,000 bid for compensation after a judge found he was unlawfully ‘trespassing’ when he died.
Bernard Ovu’s body was discovered beneath a flight of concrete steps at the bottom of a fire escape at Canning Town tube station on January 22, 2017.
The 35-year-old suffered a ‘catastrophic head injury’ and lay undiscovered for more than six hours after he had mistakenly strayed into the staff-only area of the station shortly after 3am on his way home from a wedding in Rotherhithe, south-east London.
Today Judge Victoria McCloud found that the safety of passengers who stray out of bounds in train stations is not the legal responsibility of station managers.
Mr Ovu’s mother, Roselyn Aigbibo Ovu, launched a £300,000 damages claim against London Underground Ltd, alleging blame in failing to ensure safe staffing levels which she says would have led to his presence being detected before he was hurt.
But London Underground denied negligence, saying Mr Ovu had risked disaster through his own drunk and erratic behaviour while trespassing in a restricted area.
The case reached court where Judge McCloud ruled against the family’s case and backed London Underground’s claim that Mr Ovu was an unlawful trespasser at the time of his fall because he had strayed from the public area of the station.
Bernard Ovu, 35, was trapped in a stairwell at Canning Town station for nearly an hour before tripping down a flight of concrete steps leading off the escape bridge and suffering a ‘catastrophic head injury’ on January 22, 2017
In a High Court ruling with implications for train users and managers, the judge decided no compensation can be recovered because of Mr Ovu’s trespasser status and since no ‘duty of care’ was owed to him.
She labelled the case ‘important – because of its potential implications for users of the Underground and for the London Underground Railway itself’.
Mr Ovu’s family told the court he became ‘trapped’ in the staff-only area after the emergency gates, through which he had passed, were mistakenly closed, preventing him returning safely to the station’s Tube platforms.
The station supervisor closed the access gate in the belief that Mr Ovu had already passed back to the Jubilee Line platform.
Pictured: The entrance to Canning Town Tube station
Instead, he ended up wandering around in a disorientated and cold-numbed state until he toppled down two flights of steps leading to the Dockland Light Railway platform.
His body, with his jacket coated in frost, was discovered at 8.45am – some six hours after his fall.
‘He was found to have died of head injuries,’ Judge Victoria McCloud told London’s High Court. ‘Though it may be that the freezing cold would not have helped.’
‘Mr Ovu was a trespasser at the time of his death,’ she ruled, adding: ‘He was not a lawful visitor because he had exceeded the well signposted limits of his permission, and there is nothing on the agreed facts to suggest that the signage or barriers were such as to mean that he could not be aware of the limits of his licence.’
The IT expert fell just before 3am after mistakenly straying into a staff-only area on his way home from a late-night wedding in Rotherhithe, south-east London
Judge McCloud acknowledged the shock and disappointment her decision would cause to Mr Ovu’s family.
But she said she hoped they would take ‘solace’ from safety recommendations made by the coroner who previously handled the inquest into his death.
Those changes mean London Underground staff will now ‘always either check the area, check the CCTV replay or contact the police if they are working alone and feel unsafe to check the exit structure themselves’.
During the trial, Judge McCloud had ‘expressed concern’ for the lone station supervisor e’who was faced with working alone at night and being expected to check the exit structure on his own, and with the potential of becoming locked out and having to exit the station onto the street leaving the station unattended’.
The court heard Mr Ovu had made an ‘erratic’ journey from Canada Water via Stratford after attending a wedding, and was believed to have been trying to make his way back to his home in Kingston.
At one point he stopped off at Stratford station, where he spent around 50 minutes ‘wandering around and went up to an unauthorised area of the station’, before continuing to his final destination at Canning Town.
Mr Ovu’s mother, Roselyn Aigbibo Ovu, launched the £300,000 damages claim against London Underground Ltd, alleging negligence
‘It was agreed that his behaviour was consistent with being intoxicated,’ said Judge McCloud.
‘A toxicology report at post mortem found significant blood alcohol consistent with drunkenness.
‘When he reached Canning Town, Mr Ovu ended up straying beyond permitted areas, and although he could have exited onto the street via the station’s emergency doors, he failed to do so.
‘We have seen that he did in fact reach that exit gate but elected not to use it, if indeed his state of intoxication left him really appreciating what it was at all – which we cannot know.’