A church warden has described being haunted by the image of his wife falling to her death at Truro Cathedral. Paul Stuart lost his wife Jan two years ago when she fell down the steps at the rear of the building and is now suing the cathedral.
Truro Cathedral says it has not been made aware of a civil claim, and that Jan’s death continues to be a “source of deep sadness”.
Despite the cathedral making improvement works to the steps – which were suggested by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) – Paul says it has not gone far enough.
The grandfather says he is tormented by the fear that someone else will lose their life on the staircase.
Former civil servant and retail assistant Jan died after falling down the Chapterhouse Stairs in June 2018.
Jan, who had been married to Paul for 22 years, had been at the cathedral with him to see a friend become a canon when the incident happened.
Paul said: “After the ceremony, a group of us were stood at the rear of the building, at the top of the Chapterhouse Steps chatting.
“Jan was on my left when all of a sudden I heard a rustle and saw her going backwards head first down the brick steps. She hit her head on every step and stopped half way down. She was unconscious and there was blood coming out of her nose and mouth and from the back of her head.”
Jan, a 66-year-old grandmother-of-five, was rushed to hospital but two days later doctors informed Paul there was nothing more they could do and her life support machine would be switched off.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening,” said Paul, who contacted solicitor firm Slater and Gordon to launch a civil case against the cathedral.
“It was a second marriage for Jan and I and we were soul mates. We had eight grandchildren between us who we loved spending time with and we had a great life together. Jan had recently decided to retire from a part time job at Sainsbury’s and we had just booked to go on a cruise in the Fjords.
“I still see and hear her falling all the time. I continually agonise wondering if I could have caught and saved her.”
He added: “When the coroner recommended the improvement work he said he trusted that the cathedral would do something rapidly but it took them until halfway through the next year – two whole years since Jan died.
“At the inquest we heard that the cathedral were going to make a decision on proposals for each step to be covered in a fibre grid to make them safer but this hasn’t been done. Some improvement works, such as the handrails, have been made but they have made no discernible changes to the surface of the steps.
“I feel like I’m in a total vacuum. I am toddling along and people say time is a healer but it hasn’t been so far. I really think that if those stairs were improved it would help me move on a little but as it is, I’m tormented that the same could happen to somebody else.”
Michael Hardacre is head of the occupiers and public liability department at Slater and Gordon.
He represents Paul in the civil claim and said: “My client and his late wife started that day in June happy, celebrating a joyous occasion with close friends but ended it with Jan in hospital on life support.
“It’s vital that individuals are kept safe when they’re in or around public buildings and the cathedral have a duty of care to keep visitors safe. We believe that the cathedral didn’t do that, but they have denied they should be liable to compensate Mr Stuart for his loss. The fact that the HSE made recommendations for improvements to the steps speaks volumes.”
A spokesperson for Truro Cathedral said it was unaware of a civil claim.
He said: “Jan’s death continues to be a source of deep sadness to us at the cathedral, and indeed across the wider church community here in Cornwall.
“We were surprised to receive an approach from Cornwall Live asking us for comment, as to date the cathedral has not received any notification about a civil suit.
“In these circumstances it is probably better that we don’t make any comment, save to say that we will of course respond when we are contacted, and of course that we continue to hold Jan and her family in our prayers.”