A UK inquest into the death of 68-year-old British national, Martin Ellis, who died from electrocution at the John Compton Dam in Roseau last August, was held on Thursday 13th February at Camden Coroner’s Court in London. Ellis was electrocuted when he touched a pipe fixed to the dam wall at body height. The coroner’s court came to the conclusion that the death of Martin Ellis at the John Compton Dam could have been prevented with signs warning the public not to enter.
WASCO, the day after Martin’s death, released a statement which read, “A UK National Mr Martin Ellis and his three young sons were unfortunately able to access a restricted area of the Dam without first obtaining permission from the authorities to enter the compound. Access to that hilltop area is blocked with a secured metal chain across the roadway. Mr Ellis reportedly collapsed in this restricted area of the Dam.”
This statement by WASCO was adamantly refuted by the Ellis family who claimed that Martin’s death was a result of “corporate negligence” on the part of WASCO. Amy Silverston, the wife of Martin Ellis, said that Martin and his sons, upon their arrival at the dam, were directed by WASCO workers to the path that would lead them to the top of the dam. She maintained that there was no indication that Martin and his sons were accessing a restricted area as there were no guards in the security booth at the time. According to reports from her sons, she said there were no visible signs that her husband and the boys were forbidden from accessing this area.
Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for inner North London, stated, “There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that if there had been appropriate signage warning the public not to visit the dam then Martin Ellis and his family would not have visited the dam. Instead there was one sign covered in foliage, there was a knee-high chain and there were construction workers who gave directions.”
Hassell also intimated that WASCO had not provided the inquest with the electrical inspector’s report as to why the pipe was live. She said that she would make a “prevention of future deaths report” to the Saint Lucia High Commissioner in London.
Speaking to The Voice Newspaper, Amy said she has not even received an apology from WASCO in relation to her husband’s death. Phil Peart, the insurance investigator, said that Edmund Regis, General Manager of WASCO, had not been cooperative with the investigation. Amy said the police report on the incident was supposed to have been completed and submitted in mid-December of 2019, but was delayed due to WASCO’s failure to supply information requested by police. “WASCO’s behaviour is a continuation of the evasiveness experienced by the investigator appointed by our travel insurer who visited the island a few days after Martin’s death to ascertain the facts leading to his death,” the wife of now deceased Martin said.
Prior to the inquest Amy informed The Voice that WASCO was a party of interest to the coroner and needed to send a representative to give an explanation on the circumstances leading to her husband’s death. She further stated, “If WASCO is not represented at the London inquest it will give the impression of total irresponsibility.” She added that the police report will recommend an inquest to be held in Saint Lucia, which will look to the findings of the UK inquest for direction. Representing the Ellis family in this matter is Renee St Rose.
“Furthermore,” Amy went on, “The coroner will only have the evidence of WASCO’s culpability supplied by the insurance investigator and information about how I and others have attempted to contact WASCO both directly and via channels such as the Saint Lucia High Commission in London, but received no reply.”
Defending WASCO in this matter is the Former Bar Association President, Andie George. According to his legal secretary, no information regarding this inquest was communicated to the chambers. WASCO was therefore not represented at this UK inquest. Nevertheless, VINCI Construction, the international engineering company contracted appointed to work on the dam, was represented at the inquest by an observer. It is understood Vinci appointed Mega Construction as their subcontractor to do the work.
Amy had also prior to the inquest, expressed her disappointment in Guy Mayers, Saint Lucia’s High Commissioner to London, for what she said has been his lack of concern in relation to this matter. She said, “The discourtesy of the Saint Lucia High Commissioner to London who, when asked to help us with getting a response from the Saint Lucia police about this report they were writing, blustered something about there being a ‘process’ to go through that he could not describe; he failed to get back to me as promised and ignored subsequent attempts to contact him. He was asked to help tell WASCO they need to be represented at, or at least communicate with the UK coroner.”
Amy, who described herself as “severely disabled with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis,” said that she is in need of compensation that would last a lifetime. She said that she is unable to walk or write as her manual dexterity is also greatly impaired. She shared that Martin was the sole breadwinner of the family and that his untimely death has resulted in critical financial difficulty for her family, especially in light of the fact that her sons (ages 14, 16 and 20) are all enrolled in full-time education. She said, “I need several hours of personal care every day and, in due course, will probably require full-time care.” She stated further, “In addition to the cost of practical help outlined, there will be costs of counselling for all of us. The legal term is a nervous shock. What the boys went through is dreadful.”
Amy said WASCO did not portray any sense of humanity or feeling of responsibility for her sons after their father was “killed on WASCO property”. She said, “The boys were dumped in the hospital A&E where they waited alone for three hours. If a member of WASCO staff had been with them perhaps, they might have been offered a glass of water and someone could have contacted their hotel. Eventually, the hotel night manager found them.”
Even in the face of tragedy, Amy chooses to remember the remarkable person her husband was, speaking to us about how Martin was “into all sorts of things from Buddhism to drag racing, philosophy, psychedelia and Physics.”
“He did some things that were genuinely ground-breaking,” she said. “For example, you would not be using a touchscreen phone if not for the work he did at the end of the 80s. He designed the first consumer use of touch screens. At the time these were only used for very specialist industrial purposes, but Martin got the job at the National Gallery to design the public information room in the new Sainsbury wing. He came up with the first ever multimedia application combining text and images at a time when it was much talked about, but no one had actually managed to do it, all accessed via touch screens rather than keyboards.”
The National Gallery project was published on CD as Microsoft Gallery. Afterwards he set up the UK and European part of the stock photography agency Corbis, though according to Amy, “You won’t find anything about Martin online or anywhere else, because he had no interest in what other people thought of him or whether they knew about him and what he did. He had his own standards that he judged himself by. It was simple – the only thing he would accept was doing the very best possible in the circumstances.”
She ended by saying, “He is a great loss. We want him back. It was so unfair that he died in such a horrible way in such a horrible place.”