Church warden suing diocese after wife's death on 'unsafe' stairs

Gabriella Swerling
·3 min read
Jan Stuart with her husband, Paul - Paul Stuart/SWNS
Jan Stuart with her husband, Paul - Paul Stuart/SWNS

A church warden is suing a diocese after his wife fell down "unsafe" stairs at a cathedral and died. 

Paul Stuart said he is haunted by the image of his wife, Jan, falling down the stairs and suffering a serious head injury following a service at Truro Cathedral in Cornwall two years ago. 

The 66-year-old grandfather said he is worried that someone else will lose their life on the same staircase, known locally as the Chapterhouse Stairs, and has launched a civil case against the diocese. The stairs have remained closed to the public since the coronavirus lockdown in March.

Despite the cathedral making some improvement works to the steps, as suggested by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Mr Stuart said it has not gone far enough.

His wife of 22 years, who was a former civil servant and retail assistant, had been at the cathedral with him in June 2018 to celebrate a friend becoming a canon when she fell.

Mr Stuart, of Truro, 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."

Truro Cathedral - SWNS/SWNS
Truro Cathedral - SWNS/SWNS

His wife, a 66-year-old grandmother of five, was rushed to hospital but two days later doctors informed Mr Stuart there was nothing more they could do and that her life support machine would be switched off.

"I couldn't believe what was happening," he said. "It was a second marriage for Jan and I, and we were soulmates. 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. 

"I still see and hear her falling all the time. I continually agonise wondering if I could have caught and saved her."

He added that while some improvement works had been made, such as handrails being added, there had been "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," he said. "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."

He has since instructed the law firm Slater and Gordon to launch a civil case against the cathedral.

The Chapterhouse Stairs remain out of use as a result of entry to the cathedral being via the west end only and a one-way system being in place because of coronavirus social distancing regulations.

The Very Rev Roger Bush, Dean of Truro, said in a statement: "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 a media outlet asking us for a response. 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 respond when we are contacted, and of course that we continue to hold Jan and her family in our prayers."