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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Safety barrier going up at north Cumbria crash bridge

A damaged bridge blamed for causing an accident which killed a devoted father is to have a safety barrier installed.

Wampool bridge photo
Pauline and Harry Smith at the bridge

Confirmation that the work will be carried out – starting on Saturday – came just days after an inquest was held into the death of part-time firefighter Russell Long.

The 37-year-old Innovia engineer, who lived in Wigton, died on September 3 last year after his Audi car mounted a broken bridge parapet in foggy weather and then tumbled into the River Wampool.

After hearing evidence of the tragedy, coroner David Roberts said he would write to the Highways Department of Cumbria County Council to urge that they take action to prevent a similar accident.

The inquest heard graphic accounts of how Mr Long had enjoyed a clay pigeon shoot at his family’s Newtown Arlosh farm and set off for home shortly before 10am.

He never arrived, and his family became involved in a desperate search.

Mr Long was eventually found in the river next to his car, which had left the road next to Howath Bridge on the B5307 near Kirkbride.

It later emerged that the nearside wheels of his Audi had strayed on to grass verge and mounted the broken, low lying bridge parapet, effectively propelling the car into the air before it hit a bridge buttress and landed upside down in the river.

Investigations carried out by Mr Long’s brother Allister, his mother Pauline Smith, and stepfather Harry revealed that a large cornerstone which may have stopped his car sliding on to the parapet was already lying in the adjacent field at the time of the crash.

During a visit to the crash site, Mr and Mrs Smith said they remained convinced Mr Long would be alive today had the missing cornerstone been in place on the night of the accident.

“This is a tragedy that should never have happened,” said Mrs Smith, 62.

“After the accident, I just needed to come here to make sense of what had happened and it was then that we found the cornerstone at the start of the parapet was missing.

“It was in the field, covered with thick moss.

“So it must have been there for a long time – probably after an earlier accident.

“If that cornerstone had been there, Russell’s car would have bounced back on to the road.

“We don’t want any other family to have to go through what we’re going through. We’re serving a life sentence.

“It’s about justice.”

Reacting to the news that the bridge is to have a safety barrier installed, Mrs Smith added: “For Russell, it’s come too late but it’s amazing news because nobody else should have to go through this.”

Mr Smith, 70, a retired paramedic, said: “Somebody somewhere must have been responsible for the maintenance of this bridge.”

A Cumbria County Council spokesman said all such bridges were inspected every two years, and Howath Bridge was last inspected in June 2012, when minor pointing work was recommended

He added: “The approach wall where the tragic incident took place does appear to have a cornerstone missing. But this was not deemed a structural fault in the last inspection or any previous inspections.

“We cannot find any records of any safety concerns being raised to the county council.”

After the tragedy, the authority’s engineers recommended the installation of a safety barrier at the point of impact and to realign the height of the wall with the barrier.

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