A civil servant who suffered a serious knee injury when a faulty lift at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) went into free fall has received substantial compensation after help from her trade union’s solicitors.

Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union member Velma Williams, 61, from Chessington in Surrey, was terrified when the lift in the MoD’s Defence Geographic Centre in Feltham fell out of control from the third floor.

An inspection report showed that the lift had previously had 43 faults but it was not replaced. The MoD finally had it refurbished after Mrs Williams’ ordeal.

She and a colleague were using the lift to attend a meeting when it suddenly went into free fall. It was stopped by a safety beam which was triggered by the speed of the lift and automatically slid into place just below the second floor.

The lift bounced off the safety beam three times before finally coming to a standstill. The impact caused Mrs Williams to suffer a serious knee injury, which needed an operation. She also suffered whiplash.

The security operator was forced to take two months off work whilst she recovered from knee surgery and when she returned to work she suffered from panic attacks when using lifts.

Formerly a keen golf player, her knee was so badly injured she now suffers from arthritis and can no longer play golf or do aerobics.

Thompsons Solicitors made Personal Injury Claim

Following the accident she contacted PCS, which instructed its lawyers Thompsons Solicitors to pursue a claim for compensation.

Investigations revealed the lift had a long list of previous problems and was often out of action. Thompsons argued that the MoD should have done more to make sure the lift was in good working order.

The MoD admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £16,500.

Mrs Williams, who had worked for the MoD for 22 years, said: “I have never been so frightened in my life. I didn’t think the lift was going to stop. It was a relief when it hit the beam but the impact was excruciating and each time it rose back up I knew that it was going to drop hit again.

“I feel as though this accident has aged me rapidly. I can no longer do aerobics or play golf and I panic if I have to use a lift. I had used my trade union previously during my working life and I knew that they would help me with my claim. I’m grateful for all the support I’ve received.”

Carl Banks, PCS’s equality, health and safety officer, said: “Health and safety is under serious threat because of the cuts and a lack of political will, but as an employer the government should learn the lessons of this accident. Cutting health and safety corners not only risks lives, but it’s also expensive. Had the MoD made more effort to ensure this lift was working correctly this terrifying accident could have been avoided.”

Joanne Evans from Thompsons Solicitors added: “Our investigations revealed that there had been a number of problems with this lift. It’s unacceptable that more was not done to ensure it was in good working condition.”