A UTILITY company has been ordered to pay more than £2m after a schoolboy plunged to his death from a pipeline, three metres above a canal in Burnley.

Robbie Williamson, 11, was heading to a fish and chip shop with friends when he slipped and fell from the pipe crossing the Leeds and Liverpool Canal on April 22 last year.


National Grid Gas Plc, the firm responsible for the upkeep of the pipeline, admitted it had failed to protect the public by allowing access to the pipe.

Judge Mark Brown, sentencing at Preston Crown Court yesterday, said the exposed pipe, three metres above the water over a concrete surface was “an accident waiting to happen.”

Robbie, a pupil at Shuttleworth College, Padiham, was walking home from school when he fell from the pipe onto the concrete below, and into the water.

The popular youngster was pulled out by neighbour Peter Graham – a former Royal Artillery soldier – who managed to revive Robbie at the scene.

Tragically, Robbie’s heart stopped beating and he died in Royal Blackburn Hospital with his family by his bedside.

Judge Brown said: “The pipeline was likely to have been attraction to young boys such as Robbie and was likely to be dangerous when it was wet and slippery.

“The defendant (National Grid) did nothing to prevent or deter access onto it.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the terrible and tragic death of Robbie has had a deeply profound affect on his parents.

“There can not be anything worse in life than for a parent to lose their child at such a very young age.”

The court heard National Grid has a procedure for inspecting above ground pipe crossing, and requirements for providing measures to prevent access.

However its records incorrectly showed the pipe was buried within the bridge rather than exposed on the outside of the bridge. Therefore it had not been subject to any inspections.

Maintenance work had been carried out on the pipe but the records had not been updated.

Nigel Lawrence, prosecuting, said there was ‘free and unfettered access’ to the pipe which ran alongside the bridge at Lowerhouse Lane.

Daniel Hayton, defending National Grid, said the firm accepted it was at fault by failing to carry out a risk assessment.

But he added the boys had taken an informed decision to climb up the pipeline - a manoeuvre that was not without risk.

Sentencing, Judge Mark Brown said: “It seems to me that the defence are seeking to place the blame for the accident upon Robbie himself and overlook the fact the company exposed him to an obvious risk of injury or death.”

Robbie’s dad, Dean Williamson, 38, said the loss of his son had had a devastating affect on the family.

In a victim impact statement read to the court, he said: “I didn’t realise how many people knew him and loved him.

“This tragic accident has changed our lives forever.”

Robbie’s mum Nicola Grimshaw said she had been ‘walking around in a fog’ since she lost her son, who she described as ‘a normal boy - happy, mischievous, popular and friendly’.

A spokesman for National Grid said: “We are deeply sorry for what happened to Robbie Williamson. He and his friends were able to climb through railings owned by the local authority and onto the gas pipe which runs alongside Dugdale Bridge in Burnley because there weren’t adequate measures in place to stop them.

“We put guards in place on the gas pipe shortly after the accident and also on other similar crossings throughout our network. We contacted other utility companies to make sure they were aware of what had happened.

“The 12-inch diameter pipe has been in place since 1903. This is the first time an accident of this kind has happened. We will do everything we can to ensure it is the last.”

The firm, which has pre-tax profit of £1.1bn, was fined £2m and have to pay £36,102 prosecution costs.