Jury concludes mill volunteer’s death was a ‘tragic accident’

Heckington Windmill director Jim Bailey (left) with Pete Lett (right) with the Ruston and Hornsby 2XHR static engine that was later installed to drive mill stones in the absence of wind for the sails. EMN-180829-113628001
Heckington Windmill director Jim Bailey (left) with Pete Lett (right) with the Ruston and Hornsby 2XHR static engine that was later installed to drive mill stones in the absence of wind for the sails. EMN-180829-113628001

A jury has concluded that the death of a volunteer working at Heckington Windmill was accidental.

Peter Lett, 53, a former RAF engineer from Ruskington, had led a team restoring and installing classic engine built in the 1950s for use to power the millstones when there was not enough wind to turn the sails.

Heckington Windmill - scene of the tragic accident which killed Peter Lett. EMN-180829-115757001

Heckington Windmill - scene of the tragic accident which killed Peter Lett. EMN-180829-115757001

The inquest at Lincoln Cathedral Centre yesterday (Tuesday August 28) heard that Mr Lett and a fellow volunteer had been testing the engine on February 25 this year when a drawstring of a fleece he was wearing became snagged on the crank shaft soon after the engine had been started up.

He became entangled and it is believed he was flung over the machine before hitting the floor suffering multiple injuries, described by the post mortem. He had been pronounced dead at the scene.

Jurors heard from fellow volunteers who were close to him at the time who said the incident happened in less than a second.

They explained he had not been wearing standard protective overalls issued for all volunteers due to a medical condition making it difficult for him to lift his arms enough to put them on.

The inquest also heard that as it was heritage machinery, it had not been fitted with modern safety guards, but the public were not allowed near the engine.

On questioning, mill director Jim Bailey conceded that in retrospect, more guards would have been fitted. A risk assessment had been in the process of being carried out.

Senior Coroner Stuart Fisher is said to have described the events as some of the most tragic he had come across in many years and extended his condolences to the family, paying tribute to Mr Lett’s talent and dedication to the windmill trust.

The coroner is to write to the Health and Safety Executive calling for guidance to be given on the guarding of historical machinery.

After the hearing, Mr Lett’s family, Ann, Rebecca and Catherine Lett, issued a statement to the awaiting press, read out by family friend Karen Beecham.

They thanked the Coroner and his team for their support and swift resolution to this case and thanked the Windmill Trust, saying: “Pete always held the Windmill volunteers in high regard, and we now know why. From the moment of the accident, Pete was surrounded by the love and care of his volunteer colleagues, and we understand was not left alone until the funeral director collected his body. We are grateful for them, as we were not allowed to be there.”

They gave special thanks to the Engineering Team at the mill and to Charles Pinchbeck, the chairman of Heckignton Windmill Trust and his wife Sally who broke the sad news to the family.

They also thanked the Lincolnshire Methodist District for their love, support and prayers and family and friends for their support: “for being there holding us when the pain of loss was too much to bear, and for being there as soon

as you can when we needed you most.”

They added: “We are relieved with the finding of the jury, that this was indeed a tragic accident.

Charles Pinchbeck, chairman of Heckington Windmill Trust, also commented: “We continue to mourn the loss of our dear friend Pete Lett. Pete volunteered at the mill for over four and a half years and following his retirement from the RAF it became his second home. The expertise he gained whilst serving, his knowledge of oil engines and general good sense made him the natural choice as Engineering Team Leader.

“He is missed enormously for his enthusiasm and experience and most of all his kindly good nature.

“We very much appreciate the support the windmill has received from the community - both locally and further afield. Canon Alan Robson, the County Agricultural Chaplain has been providing pastoral support for those at the Trust most affected by the sad event.

“We are glad we have been able to work with the coroner and the relevant authorities to support and assist their investigation into this tragic accident.

“Most of all we appreciate the support and encouragement we have received from Pete’s family in this saddest of times for them.

“They remain incredibly positive about the happy times that Pete spent at the mill, their strong belief that he would want it to continue to prosper and succeed and, most of all, provide a place where future generations can find the contentment and fulfilment that Pete found there.”