A CORONER is to write to all gas companies in the UK urging them to improve safety after an 11-year-old boy fell from a supply pipe into a canal and drowned.

Shuttleworth College pupil Robbie Williamson was walking on the pipe attached to the Dugdale Bridge over the Leeds and Liverpool Canal when he slipped and hit his head before landing in the water, an inquest at Burnley Town Hall was told.


After hearing evidence from paramedics, doctors and pathologists, coroner Richard Taylor concluded Robbie’s death was ‘accidental’.

But he said he would now be writing to all gas companies urging them to block public access to all exposed pipes in a bid to prevent such tragedies happening again.

During the inquest, Robbie’s dad Dean said he would have told his son not to climb on the pipe, off Lowerhouse Lane, Rosegrove, if he had known what he was doing.

However, he said children had been playing on the bridge for many years and he remembered doing so himself. He added that his father had said he had also played on the pipe as a youngster.

Pathologist Dr Philip Lumb said he had carried out a post-mortem examination on Robbie, of Bear Street, Padiham, and found injuries compatible with a fall.

Dr Lumb said there had been no traces of alcohol or drugs in Robbie’s system.

He said the cause of death was drowning, contributed to by a head injury.

Later in the inquest, concerns were raised about the safety of the exposed gas pipe, which National Grid engineering quality manager Ian Aldridge said had been addressed at Dugdale Bridge.

The inquest heard that at the time of the accident National Grid records mistakenly showed that the pipe was actually underground and therefore there was nothing to stop people climbing on it.

He said the safety issue was now being looked at across the firm’s network.

Concluding at the end of a three-and-a-half hour inquest yesterday, Mr Taylor said: “There is no doubt that there is an identified risk here.

“That is supported by the evidence of Robert’s father, who said if it was happening now he would have told him not to do it, and by the reaction of National Grid.

“Exposed pipes must create a risk if found to be accessible.

“It is also of note that the National Grid database recorded it as having been under the pavement.

“I am thus duty bound to report and my comments are simple, there may be exposed pipework for which you are responsible that is accessible to members of the public.

“I will send this report to all gas companies in the UK.

“I commend how National Grid have reacted to Robbie’s death.

“My sincere condolences go to the family for their loss.”

After the inquest, the family’s barrister Ruth Trippier said: “This has not allayed any of the family’s disquiet as to the cause of the death.

“But they are glad that National Grid is taking steps that are aimed at preventing it from happening again.”

In a statement, a National Grid spokeswoman said: “We would like to express our sympathies to Robbie’s family and friends and we acknowledge how painful today’s inquest must have been for them.

“Since April 23, we have installed protection on the pipe over Dugdale Bridge and have carried out a thorough review of all the other pipe crossings we own to see if there is a need for additional measures to be taken to prevent access.

“We will share details of our review with the wider gas industry.

“The pipe alongside Dugdale Bridge is 12 inches in diameter and is fixed to the side of the bridge.

“It has been in place since 1903.

“Our investigations found we had no record of anyone contacting us or our predecessor companies to report an issue with children climbing on this pipe.

“We and other utility companies can put deterrents in place but we think it is important to stress the need for people to be aware of the dangers involved in climbing on structures such as these.”