Published: 06:00, 09 March 2021
A combination of errors led to the death of an "active" pensioner, an inquest heard.
A jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure contributed to by neglect after hearing retired Army officer Rodney "Rod' Gates of Newington near Sittingbourne died in hospital after being hit by a lorry.
During a seven-day inquest at the Shepway Centre, Maidstone, assistant coroner Kate Thomas heard how Mr Gates, 84, had been returning to his home for tea when he was "clipped" by a lorry near roadworks on the A2 at temporary traffic lights.
The force spun Mr Gates round and as he fell he broke his right leg.
The jury did not apportion blame to the driver, but said the lorry had been "waved through" when it should not have been. They said it was "simple human error" and added that the traffic light operator had been "inadequately trained" for his role.
The inquest heard that Mr Gates' injuries had been "survivable" but he died a day later at Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham.
Witnesses said he should have been monitored every hour because of a risk of internal bleeding while waiting to have his leg mended but no such observations were carried out from 6.30am on the day of his death. He died that afternoon at 4.50pm from a cardiac arrest following a bleed.
The jury said this was a "gross failure" which contributed to his death.
A post mortem examination listed the cause of death as coronary artery disease and a broken leg caused by a road traffic collision.
Mr Gates' niece Helen Gates, a former maths teacher at Fulston Manor School who is now a lecturer at Solihull College and University, said: "Obviously as a family we wish that the events that transpired in early April 2018 and ultimately led to Uncle Rod's death had never occurred.
"However, having listened to all of the evidence presented at the inquest we are in agreement with, and pleased with, the jury's findings."
It was on April 5, 2018, that Mr Gates was hit by a Scania lorry on the busy A2 as he tried to cross the road. He had been to his local pub The Bull Inn for a pint at 4pm and was heading home just before 5pm.
As he went to cross the road by the Co-op he was hit by the lorry which knocked him to the ground. The Portuguese lorry driver didn’t stop but was later tracked down and interviewed by police.
He was subsequently released without charge after officers determined he had not committed a crime.
The jury, six men and four women, heard how roadworks to repair a water main may have caused confusion. Work had begun near Station Road a week earlier and included temporary manually-operated traffic lights.
The inquest heard how the driver had squeezed past another lorry on the narrow high street moments before reaching the roadworks and a red light.
He stopped outside the Bull Inn and Co-op but was gestured forward by the traffic light operator, a Mr Grant, who wanted to get him “as close as possible” to the lights to prevent any obstructions.
But CCTV footage played to the jury showed the lorry hit Mr Gates as it edged forward.
PC Mark Wooding of the Kent Police serious investigation unit explained how Mr Gates was heard speaking to pedestrians after the accident saying: “I’ve been hit by a truck but not too bad. It’s just caught me.”
He said Mr Grant and some residents had concerns about the location of the temporary traffic lights and suggested they be moved where the road was not so narrow.
Mr Grant told PC Wooding the first time he saw Mr Gates was when he fell and shouted: "My hip, my hip”.
A statement from nephew Howard Gates, read to the court, described his uncle as "intelligent and kind with a good sense of humour" who was "liked and loved by many people.”
He said his uncle was a “regimented” man who had set times for his meals. He lived alone following the death of his wife Alma after 55 years of marriage but was independent.
His niece added: "A number of different factors very sadly led to the untimely death of Uncle Rod. He was not an 'old' 84-year-old. He was with-it mentally. It was not like he was on his last legs. We all thought he had a good few years left.
"He loved his daily crossword and still looked after his own garden. His Chrysanthemums were his pride and joy. You'd never see a weed there.
"He grew all his own vegetables and he still did all his washing by hand. His death came as a huge shock to the family. But we now have closure."
She revealed her uncle's death had led to a double tragedy as her own father, Mr Gates' younger brother Ric, never recovered from losing his brother and died last year aged 84. Their sister Beryl and older brother Jack have also died.
Helen, 63, said: "The Gang of Four have all gone. It's the end of an era."
She added: "Although my father moved to the Midlands he and Uncle Rod always stayed in touch.
"Every week Uncle Rod would send a copy of the Sittingbourne News or the East Kent Gazette to my dad and every Saturday at 6pm they'd phone each other and discuss what was in the paper. They were very close, almost like twins.
"Uncle Rod never seemed to have anything wrong with him. He was never ill. He only ever went to the doctors for what he called his annual MOT. He weighed himself every Saturday. It wasn't his time to go."
Mr Gates was born in Sittingbourne and attended St Michael's School before moving to Rochester Technical School at 13.
At 16 he started a five-year apprenticeship as a shipwright at Chatham Dockyard and later was called up for National Service.
He liked Army life so much he signed on as a regular soldier with The Buffs and retired as a warrant officer after 22 years in the Pay Corps having served abroad in Germany and Cyprus.
Dr David Sulch, the chief medical officer at Medway NHS Foundation Trust, said: "I’d like to offer my sincere condolences to the family of Mr Gates. We accept that we did not provide the standard of care required following the serious injuries Mr Gates suffered in the road traffic collision nearly three years ago.
"We have carried out a full internal investigation into the failings in his care and have made a number of improvements to fast-track elderly trauma patients. We have also shared the lessons learnt from this tragic incident.
“In addition, we have implemented a software system across the trust to support staff in taking timely observations of patients and monitoring their conditions.”