The appellant was a police officer who was investigating a suspected stolen trailer that had been parked in the service yard of a supermarket in the centre of Glastonbury. He entered the respondent’s property which adjoined the service area, in order, eventually, to take up a position overlooking the service yard. In doing so he fell into an uncovered inspection pit for coaches kept on the site, and suffered serious knee injuries as a result of which he was unable to continue working as a police officer. He brought an action for damages against the respondent.
The claim was brought under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 in the event that it was decided that the appellant was a visitor and under the Occupiers Liability Act 1984 in the event that it was decided he was a trespasser. The judge at first instance held that the police officer was trespasser and therefore the provisions of the 1984 Act applied.
The crucial issue was whether the respondent knew or believed that the trespasser might come within the vicinity of the danger, in other words the uncovered pit. The judge held that the respondent did not know or could not have reasonably known that a trespasser would enter his premises and come into the vicinity of the uncovered pit. The appellant’s claim for damages was therefore dismissed.
The appellant appealed. He argued that the site was easy to access, the coaches represented valuable property which could have been an attraction (an “allurement”) to thieves and the risk of significant injury presented by the uncovered pit was one which could have been guarded against either by ensuring that a coach was parked fully over the pit or that the pit was provided with some form of simple cover.
The court held that it was necessary to look with some care at the particular facts relating to the appellant’s claim. As the appellant had not, and could not, allege that the respondent knew that he was in or might come into the vicinity of the pit, he had to establish that the respondent had reasonable grounds to believe that he either was in or might come into the vicinity of the pit. The court also had to consider whether there was any material that could justify the conclusion that someone like the appellant might have gone round to the rear of the coaches into the vicinity of the pit.
The only material that could support that contention was that the premises could be easily entered by a trespasser and that in itself established reasonable grounds for the respondent to believe that a trespasser might do so. That in itself, however, did not support a conclusion that in so trespassing such a trespasser might go behind the coaches. There was nothing in the nature of an allurement which could attract someone to that area and there was nothing to suggest that the rear of the coaches would have formed a natural route for a trespasser to take from one place to another. The claim was therefore dismissed.
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Although this decision was in favour of the site owner, it should serve as a warning to site owners/occupiers generally. Occupiers of sites that contain equipment which may be regarded as allurements, such as diggers, tractors, and so on, should be careful to guard against the risk of injury to trespassers should they be enticed onto the site as a result of such allurements. Failure to do so may result in successful claims being brought by such trespassers against the site owners/occupiers.