Husband of former High Sheriff swept away in floods saw no road closure signs

The husband of a former High Sheriff of Derbyshire who died after being swept away following heavy rain has told a coroner he saw no road signs warning drivers of flooding.

Annie Hall, 69, died after getting out of her car, when the vehicle became stranded in floodwater in November 2019.

Mrs Hall and her husband, Michael, were trying to drive home to Ashford-in-the-Water, near Bakewell, in the Derbyshire Peak District, when they were forced to find an alternative way home after the main A6 road was cut by flooding.

An hour-and-a-half case management inquest hearing at Chesterfield Coroner’s Court on Monday was attended by Mrs Hall’s husband, her son, David Pickup, and Mr Hall’s son, Robert Hall.

During the hearing, Peter Nieto, area coroner for Derby and Derbyshire, said a question had been raised by the family regarding the reported absence of any road closure or flood warning signs in the immediate area.

Mr Hall told the pre-inquest hearing there were “no ‘Road closed’ signs” that he could see, before the couple drove into floodwater in the early hours of November 8 2019.

He added that, in a documented list of the “Road closed” signs set up that night, which he had seen since, two streets leading to the scene did not have any signage.

Mr Hall said one of those was Church Road, along which the couple had travelled in their car immediately before hitting the floodwater.

He told the hearing: “I have two questions in my mind.

“The first is why there weren’t any signs saying ‘Road closed’ at St Helen’s Church, because there’s a number of roads off the A6 and there was no sign – and no signs listed – that they closed the roads.”

He added: “To give you some of idea of the activity, I said to my wife ‘Slow down, the water is going to be over the bonnet’ – and at that point it was too late, we were in the flow of water.”

He told the coroner: “I am not here to look for a guilty party, I am here to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“It wasn’t the first time it had happened, it had happened (there) in 2011, according to the farmer.”

Mr Hall added that his wife had spoken to a police officer in a marked car, with its lights flashing, in the run-up to the incident, to ask about road conditions.

The widower told the coroner he wanted to know “why it wasn’t possible for a police officer in a vehicle to give the suggestions as to how we might complete our journey home”.

Mr Hall added: “Clearly we cannot bring her back, but it might perhaps avoid it happening again.”

Mr Nieto said the aim of the hearing was to identify what key information and witness testimony the final inquest would need in order “to have as in-depth an investigation into the death as we can”.

He said he would hear from sources shedding light on who was “responsible for the planning the response” to flooding emergencies.

The coroner said: “What is it about that area that makes it prone to flooding, and what mitigating measures are in place to try and lessen the extent of the flooding?

“Secondly, what actually happened (on the night) and what people did on the night of November 7 and the morning of November 8 2019,” he said.

Mr Nieto said he would want to hear what conditions were like and “understand how severe the rainfall situation was at the time”, how flood warnings were communicated, and the timescale of the response once the alarm was raised.

He added that “reasonable questions” had been raised, including about “whether the flood risk was raised by recent (building) development”.

Autumn weather Nov 8th 2019
Autumn weather Nov 8th 2019

A full inquest date will be set in due course, the coroner said.

The hearing was attended by legal representatives from Severn Trent Water, Derbyshire Police, Derbyshire Dales District Council and Derbyshire County Council.

Mr Nieto said he would also seek input from the Environment Agency and Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service.

The incident unfolded in the early hours of November 8 2019, near the junction of Church Road and Old Road in Darley Dale, near Matlock, on the outskirts of the Peak District National Park, after the River Derwent burst its banks.

A pathologist previously listed Mrs Hall’s cause of death as drowning.

Mrs Hall, who was retired, had served as the county’s High Sheriff in 2017.