St Lucia denies British family compensation for father's electrocution death because he was relieving himself

Martin Ellis
Martin Ellis

St Lucia is denying compensation to a grieving British family whose loved-one was fatally electrocuted on the basis that he was going to relieve himself at the time.

Martin Ellis and his three teenage sons were trekking to a nature reserve on the Caribbean island in August 2019 when they were caught in a tropical rainstorm and took shelter under the eaves of a pumping station.

As the 68-year-old software designer was heading to the rear of the building to relieve himself, he came into contact with a metal pipe with an un-earthed electrical wire inside. He let out a cry of shock, but died shortly after in front of one of his children.

As well as his sons, Mr Ellis left behind a wife with progressive multiple sclerosis who requires round-the-clock care.

Despite an official engineer finding that the electrical set-up breached regulations and recommending its immediate replacement, the St Lucian government-owned Water and Sewerage Company (Wasco) is refusing to pay out

Martin Ellis
Martin Ellis

Part of its defence is that Mr Ellis should not have been intending to urinate in public, arguing that to do so would have been "illegal, unsanitary and likely to be injurious to public health".

The tragedy is the second known death of a British tourist due to electrocution on St Lucia in a decade.

In 2012, Hannah Defoe, the 20-year-old cousin of former England footballer Jermain Defoe, died when she was electrocuted in a swimming pool by a 180-volt charge running through the water.

Mr Ellis’s family believe the authorities in St Lucia are desperate to avoid further negative headlines about safety standards on the island, which is heavily reliant on tourism. British holidaymakers making up the second-largest contingent at 30 per cent of the market.

Lucian Ellis, who was 19 at the time, was himself electrocuted several times as he tried to turn over his father’s body in order to administer CPR. With no phone reception, he and his brothers had to wait nearly two hours for help.

'They clearly don't care about health and safety'

Amy Silverston, Mr Ellis’s widow, described Wasco’s legal tactics as "ridiculous". "For decency’s sake Martin just wanted to get out of sight and have a pee where he couldn’t be seen," she told The Telegraph.

"He is the second British tourist to be electrocuted on St Lucia, and on government property. If you can’t be safe on government property, where can you be?

"They clearly don’t care about health and safety."

At the time of the incident, Ms Silverston, 60, an advertising expert, was still able to walk and expected to remain mobile for many years. However, multiple sclerosis is notoriously sensitive to stress, and within three months she was confined to a wheelchair.

"My consultant said 'you’re deteriorating in front of my eyes'," she said.

As well as dealing with the trauma of their father’s death, the boys had to learn how to run the household.

"Listening to your 14-year-old folding laundry at midnight is heartbreaking," said Ms Silverston.

'The response from those responsible in St Lucia is disgraceful'

Mr Ellis, from west London, was a pioneer in software development, creating a multimedia platform for the National Gallery in the 1990s, which became a model for similar institutions across the world.

He proposed to Ms Silverston after dating her for just three weeks.

The family is also suing Vinci Construction Maritime ET Fluvial and Mega Contracting INC, a Wasco contractor and subcontractor respectively.

Part of the defence case is to argue that the four tourists were trespassing near the dam and behaved negligently themselves.

However, the family argue that they were given directions willingly by workmen and that warning signs were covered in foliage, although hastily uncovered in the immediate aftermath of the electrocution.

None of the defendants responded to The Telegraph’s request for comment.

Jennifer Kelly from Fieldfisher solicitors, acting for the family, said: "Considering the devastating loss to the whole family and the significant psychological injuries suffered by Martin's children who tried to save their father with CPR and then witnessed his horrific death, the response from those responsible in St Lucia is disgraceful.

"We will continue to ask questions about electrical safety standards on the island and pursue justice for Amy and her three sons."