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WHSmith pays out biggest fine ever after woman falls through trapdoor in Taunton

An investigation found there was no protection or signage around the hatch. Credit: Taunton Deane Borough Council

WHSmith has been ordered to pay its biggest fine ever after a woman fell through a trapdoor in their Taunton store.

A 64-year-old customer was looking at birthday cards on February 16th 2014, when she fell three metres into the storage basement below.

She was taken to hospital with a severe leg injury and since the accident, she has had to undergo three operations to rebuild her heel.

A court heard staff at the store used the trapdoor to update stock by passing items up from the basement.

The stationery giant have been fined and ordered to pay costs of nearly half a million. Credit: PA

An investigation by Taunton Deane Borough Council found inadequacies in the system of work and said the incident was "foreseeable and preventable".

The British retailer pleaded guilty at Taunton Crown Court in May 2018, to breaching its general duties regarding health and safety.

Upon sentencing on 31st October 2018, Judge Ticehurst said it was "abundantly clear" her injuries had a "devastating effect" on her.

The trapdoor in the Taunton store is now out of use. Credit: Taunton Deane Borough Council

A WHSmith spokesperson said:

"WH Smith always puts the safety of customers and staff first. Despite measures being in place, a customer was sadly injured in our Taunton store in 2014. Following the incident, a thorough review was completed, changes were made to prevent this happening again, and we have apologised to the customer.

The Company takes health and safety extremely seriously as evidenced by its successful reduction in the number of reportable accidents consistently every year for each of the last eight years, across all areas of the business."

– WHSmith spokesperson

As well as being fined £337,500, WHSmith was also ordered to pay over £135,000 towards Taunton Deane Borough Council's legal costs .

The store has since moved its items to another store room and the trapdoor is no longer used.