1936: ‘’Witnesses deny there was any undermining’’

Inquest at Encombe House.

Denials that there was any undermining of the face of a gravel pit to cause a fall which buried Andrew Dorey, aged 57, of Encombe, Corfe Castle, with fatal results, was made by witnesses when the occurrence was investigated by the Coroner for East Dorset (Mr R Neville Jones) at the inquest held on the victim at Encombe House (the residence of the Hon. Sir Ernest Scott) on Monday evening. A graphic account of the tragic incident was given by Charles Stephen Dorey, a 26yrs old shepherd in the employ of Sir Ernest Scott, residing at South Street Kingston. He related how he went to the gravel pit at Encombe on Friday morning last, to assist in drawing gravel. His uncle, the deceased, and William Sansom were already working there. Witness went back to the pit at 2pm, after dinner, and with his companions he was engaged in sorting the gravel and loading it on the lorry. He was on the left of the lorry with his uncle and facing the cliff. The lorry was loaded and they were discussing whether they should load anymore, witness continued. Just then I looked up at the face of the cliff and saw a trickle of dirt and gravel falling on my left. My uncle was standing to the left of me. I thought I saw a movement on the face of the cliff and I think I shouted “we are going to have a fall,” but I am not quite sure. I shouted some warning or other and jumped to my right to give my uncle a chance to get out. At the same time a large quantity of dirt and gravel fell and tore off one of my shoes. I looked round to see where the others were and couldn’t see my uncle. I ran to the fall and heard a faint groaning under the gravel. The lorry driver, Fred Sansom helped me to scramble away the gravel with his hands. We uncovered his right shoulder and worked to his face, this was blue and he was silent.

Straight cliff.

Witness added that this was about ten minutes after the fall, other help then came. Deceased was lying on his left side with his head down hill, furthest away from the cliff. The face of the cliff was not undermined at this point-

The cliff was straight faced at the point of the fall.

The Coroner. Had there been any previous falls there?

Witness : No Sir; None while I have been working there.

Coroner: You knew it was dangerous to undermine, didn’t you? Yes Sir.

Mr P N Saddal (HM Inspector of Mines) You know that there is a piece at the side which is undermined? Yes Sir.

When was that done? Before we went there Sir.

The Coroner: Had you been working anywhere near this spot? We hadn’t been working opposite the spot.

Inspector of Mines: You are sure that no undermining was done during the time you were there? None Sir. We moved a large heap at the bottom of the cliff and scraped some loose stuff off the face.

Replying to other questions, Witness said that he believed instructions had been given that there was to be no undermining.

Another witness, William Alfred Sansom a labourer, employed by Sir Ernest Scott and living at Encombe, said that he saw a movement of dirt and gravel and shouted “look out!” He was standing on the platform on the right of the lorry, and as he shouted there was a big fall of gravel. He looked round but couldn’t see any sign of deceased, so ran for help.

Estate order.

The actual fall, the Witness said, took place where they had been working for a fortnight. He knew it was dangerous to undermine and there was an estate order not to undermine.

Walter Emmanuel  Candy, agent for Sir Ernest Scott, of Kingston, said that deceased was engaged with three other men in drawing gravel at a pit, the face 16ft high. He had previously warned the men not to undermine. Deceased had worked in this pit for some time past at intervals. I had reliance in him, he was a most experienced work man one of the most experience on the estate and “I had great confidence in him.” Mr Candy said, adding that he would be in charge of the gang, and had been employed by Sir Ernest Scott all his life.

In reply to the Inspector of Mines, Mr Candy agreed that it rained exceedingly hard on the night before the occurrence.

Dr. G Drury, Corfe Castle, said that the actual cause of death was suffocation. When he arrived on the scene he examined deceased and found that the right leg was shattered below the knee, both bones of the leg being fractured, and the left humerus was fractured high up. Witness tried artificial respiration for a short time, but without effect.

Evidence of identification had earlier been given by Arthur Harold Dorey, a son of the deceased and a chauffeur employed by Sir Ernest Scott, who said that he last saw his father alive at 1.50pm on Friday when he was in his usual good health. He next saw him about 3.30pm. He was then dead and partially buried under about 18inches of gravel.

Inspector’s opinion.

At the close of the evidence the Inspector of Mines, at the invitation of the Coroner pointed out that the face of the cliff was now vertical, and a stranger going to it would say that it had been over hanging, for where did the fall come from. In the face of the evidence he couldn’t say anymore.

(Under the Quarry Act it was an offence against the law to undermine, but on a private estate the Quarry Act didn’t apply.)

Recalling Charles Stephen Dorey the Coroner asked him : Before the fall occurred was there any undermining at this particular spot? No Sir.

Did you see the fall occur? Yes Sir.

Did the whole face slide down? Yes Sir. It looked as though the whole face came down from top to bottom.

You have no doubt about that? No doubt whatever.

You have heard the suggestion of the Inspector that the face is vertical now and it must have come from the top it came right the way down.

The Inspector observed that the accident would be a warning that it was dangerous practice to undermine, or even to work in some instances where the face was practically vertical.

The Coroner addressing the Jury, said that there was no question but that this was a pure accident, and he was certain all their sympathy went out to the widow and family in the tragedy. He was told that the deceased was a most esteemed workman on the estate where he had worked all his life, and was respected and liked by everybody in the district.

A verdict of “accidental death” was returned by the Jury, and they expressed sympathy with the widow and family, expressions with which Inspector G E Burt, on behalf of the police, and the Inspector of Mines joined.

Dorset County Chronicle, 24 September 1936

Transcription courtesy of Carol Brown whose late husband Ken was the grandson of the deceased Andrew Dorey.