Safety call after tragic accident in Berwick

A couple have said there are questions that need answers after an accident by the Berwick Barracks site that led to their beloved pet dog having to be put down.

Friday, 28th May 2021, 7:30 am
Murphy was a two-year-old rescue dog when he entered the lives of Brian and Pat Williams.

Brian and Pat Williams, both retired, regularly go on holiday in Northumberland from their home in Pickering and Brian has described how Murphy, a seven-year-old collie cross, was seriously injured when he fell onto the “sunken” courtyard.

They believe there is not adequate protection from such a fall and they have also called for contact details to summon help in these types of emergency on signage.

The site is run by English Heritage and its response highlights that signage is in place at each of the gates “alerting visitors to the existence of the sheer drops and advises walkers to take care and keep dogs on leads because historic sites can be dangerous” as well as customer services and emergency telephone numbers.

Brian said: “After lunch in Berwick, Pat went shopping and I took Murphy along the fortress walls heading towards what turned out to be the Barracks Museum.

“I kept Murphy on the lead until there was a flat grass area to play ball. Then, out of character (with no open field), he started his ‘round up’ mode and circled round and up the adjacent grass bank suddenly disappeared out of view; what followed immediately was the sound of a dull thud and a single yelp.

“Murphy was not one to yelp, so I knew there was something seriously wrong and I dashed to the top of the bank only to see Murphy in the 'sunken' Berwick Barracks courtyard some 15 feet below laid on his side with his leg up and his paw sticking out at a frightening angle. He had clearly broken his leg.”

Brian needed to get through a gate to access him, but it was padlocked and he said “there was no notice advising who to ring in the case of this type of emergency”.

He continued: “I rushed to the museum entrance. Understandably, the sole receptionist was not able to leave the shop. But, after it was explained what had happened and where, the young lady managed to make a few phone calls giving access to a master key to open the gate with the promise that the key would be returned.”

Two men came across the situation and stayed with the dog whilst Brian got his car and Murphy was taken to a local vets.

Brian said: “At the very moment I drove the car out of the parking area and through the arch, I could see Pat coming down Sandgate at the time we had agreed to meet up again.

“I beckoned her to hurry to get in the car so I could explain what had happened and why the panic.

“Parking as near as possible, Murphy was wrapped in a warm blanket and lifted into the back of the car.

“At the same time, Scott (one of the men) was ringing his wife at home to contact Galedin veterinary practice to let them know that Murphy was on his way and would be there within 10 minutes.

“After a three-hour long battle of four staff to try to stabilise him it became clear that he was not going to make it and would not be fit to travel to Edinburgh, where he would need intensive care and specialist treatment.

“We then had to make the hard, devastating decision to let him go peacefully.

“Why, in these times of focused attention to health and safety, is there a site where a sunken courtyard with a 15ft sheer drop on all sides within easy reach of the public but does not have adequate protection from a fall from height?

“And why is there not a sign giving contact details to summon help in these types of emergencies?”

He added: “We would like to thank Scott, his wife and his colleague for their kind help and support.

“Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment when Scott gave Pat his mobile number, she must have transposed some numbers and we have not been able to get in touch with him.

“We would also like to thank the staff at the museum for their help and we would like to thank all the staff at Galedin’s who were excellent in their handling of Murphy, but equally in giving sensitive support to us.

“Finally, we would like to thank the lady who rents the holiday cottage (at Barmoor Ridge, near Ford) who is going to plant a rose in the garden in memory of Murphy.”

Kate Anceau, free sites partnership manager at English Heritage, Northumberland, said: “We are extremely sad to hear this news. This is a truly tragic accident and our hearts go out to Mr and Mrs Williams.

“These ramparts were built many years ago for military purposes and so by nature have been designed with sheer drops. Although the section in which Murphy was being walked is a large open area surrounding Berwick Barracks and is freely accessible to the public without a ticket, it can only be accessed through a series of gates.

“At each of these 10 gates, signage is in place alerting visitors to the existence of the sheer drops and advises walkers to take care and keep dogs on leads because historic sites can be dangerous.

“These signs also include our customer services telephone number and the telephone number for the local emergency services – who also have access to a key and are able to help in an emergency.

“The adjacent property, Berwick Barracks, where Mr Williams went for help is managed by a single member of our staff who gave Mr Williams the key and did her very best to help.”