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My dad wasn’t ready to die — it’s appalling

Former war hero’s death blamed on ‘ill-judged plumbing’

Geoffrey Platts at a local village memorial in Normandy
Geoffrey Platts at a local village memorial in Normandy

A war veteran who survived 25 missions in a bomber over Germany was killed by a water-borne disease at sheltered flats in Herne Bay. An inquest heard ill-judged plumbing on a shower had caused legionella bacteria to develop in a water tank at St Clement’s Court in Canterbury Road. The tragic mistake caused the death of Geoffrey Platts, who contracted the airborne disease in October 2012, aged 88. After his death, the bacteria was discovered in three other flats at St Clement’s Court, which is run by Anchor Trust. An inquest on April 24 heard it had likely developed as a result of private “plumbing installation arrangements” previously made to Mr Platts’ shower by an unknown person unconnected to Anchor Trust. The installation of a pump to increase pressure on the hot side only had allowed water to be forced back into the cold water tank, making it luke warm – the perfect breeding ground for legionella to develop. As a result, coroner Rebecca Cobb ruled his death had been from misadventure. Mr Platts’ son David, who lives in Normandy, France, was in Canterbury with his wife Christine for the inquest. He said:

“My father served on 25 missions as a rear gunner in a liberator bomber when the average life expectancy was three trips. He survived that, but not this. It’s appalling. My old man didn’t have lots of health problems. He wasn’t ready to die. This year is the 70th anniversary of D-Day and he was going to come over to us in Normandy. It really upsets me that he won’t be here.”

The inquest heard Mr Platts had moved into the flat in September 2012 and was admitted to Kent and Canterbury Hospital on October 10. He died on
November 1. While in hospital, his urine tested positive for legionella bacteria, which was then traced back to St Clement’s. Ms Cobb said:

“We do have the knowledge that this was not the only flat in the complex that was affected. He was the only person who sadly suffered as a result. I’m not going to be treating his death as just from natural causes. We have heard that the plumbing installation arrangements were the obvious starting point for the bacteria to develop.”

St Clements Court, Canterbury Road, Herne Bay
St Clements Court, Canterbury Road, Herne Bay

Anchor Trust discovered three other cases of legionella at St Clement’s Court and investigated a comprehensive cleansing operation. The firm’s head of maintenance, Michael Fox, told the inquest written advice had been given to residents about safety measures. He said:

“We had a pamphlet for customers asking them to be aware of the temperatures water should be at. We tell all customers to run the tap for three minutes if they have been away for longer than seven days.”

But Mr Platts questioned the advice, saying:

“Their advice is to run taps for three minutes if you’ve been away, but legionella is an airborne disease. Do they expect residents to hold their breath for three minutes? It’s totally the wrong thing to say.”

Ms Cobb concluded:

“From the evidence given by Mr Fox we can see that Anchor have not just applied changes to St Clement’s Court, but nationally as well. I’m satisfied that Anchor Trust in respect of this flat had done what it could with the system that was there.

25 missions in bombers

bGeoffrey Platts was born in Chesterfield on February 19, 1924. He signed up for the RAF in 1942, and flew 25 missions in Liberator bombers over Germany, serving in Italy, Sudan, Egypt and Palestine as a wireless operator and rear gunner. He was also part of the team given a mission to assassinate Hitler; flying up to the Eagles Nest, but Hitler had left for Berlin the day before. After he left the RAF in 1947, he joined a private wholesale grocery and provisions company in Spalding, Lincolnshire, as an office boy and worked his way to Cash and Carry director over about 40 years. He then moved to Kent to work alongside his son and daughter-in-law. On his retirement, he and his wife moved to southern Spain, where she died in December 1997. He stayed in Spain until 2009, when he returned to the UK to be close to his daughter in Herne Bay and moved into St Clement’s Court.

IMMEDIATE ACTION

Sonia Hicks, district manager for St Clement’s Court, said:

“We would like to send our condolences to the family of Mr Platts. We took immediate action to disinfect the flat’s water system including its individual water tank to ensure the water supply was clean and safe. As a precaution we disinfected all the communal and the individual flats’ water tanks at St Clement’s Court. We have taken this incident very seriously and worked with the environmental health officer to ensure no other customer’s health was affected. The health and safety of our customers is our top priority.”

Herne Bay Gazette, May 8th 2014

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