Henry Best: Bristol student , 21, collapsed and died late at night in PureGym

Henry Best

An inquest heard that a ‘fit and healthy’ student slumped and died late at night at a PureGym, while gymgoers couldn’t gain the attention of a first aider because they were wearing headphones.

Henry Best collapsed at the Bristol gym about 11:30 p.m. When paramedics arrived, they battled to get into the building and couldn’t find him at first.

A coroner, however, determined that the 21-year-old, who died of an undiagnosed cardiac problem, would not have been rescued even if paramedics had arrived sooner.

Henry Best

On January 10, this year, the ‘teetotal’ and ‘active’ music student experienced a heart arrest at the gym’s Harbourside branch in Bristol.

The only employee on site was a first aid-trained cleaner, but gym users couldn’t find him as he did not respond to knocks on his door because he was wearing headphones and couldn’t hear, Avon Coroner’s Court heard.

Assistant coroner Peter Harrowing recorded a conclusion that Mr Best died of natural causes.

Dr Harrowing said there was no need for a narrative verdict at the end of an inquest that lasted for a day and a half.

And the coroner said there was no need for him to make recommendations to prevent future deaths, after hearing that PureGym had ‘learned lessons’.

Following an investigation into the accident by Bristol City Council’s health and safety investigators, the firm has changed the way its gyms operate late at night.

Mr Best was a teetotal, fit, healthy, and active music student who helped organize swimming sessions for elementary school students and went to the gym on a regular basis, according to the inquiry.

Mr Best fell from a pre-existing but previously undiagnosed cardiac disease about an hour into a workout at the gym with his girlfriend Holly Jones, according to the coroner.

Henry Best

Mr Best slumped in a room on the fourth level of the building at around 11:30 p.m. after the pair went to the gym together at around 10:30 p.m.

Mr Best’s family and PureGym were both represented at the inquiry, after the family expressed concerns regarding personnel, signs, and the capacity of paramedics sent to the site to access Mr Best.

The inquest heard paramedics were in a nearby ambulance, and after being summoned at 11:31pm, they arrived at the front of the gym at 11:35pm, but it took another six minutes to reach him, after spending a minute or so fetching equipment from the ambulance’s rear.

The harrowing events inside the gym were described in a series of testimonials from other gym patrons who were present and attempted to assist, as well as from the paramedics themselves.

The inquest heard that Miss Jones immediately dialed 999 and, following the instructions of the emergency call takers, performed CPR on Mr Best for ten minutes until paramedics arrived.

Two other gym users in the neighborhood arrived to assist and then went off to fetch a member of staff. The only employee on the premises at the time was a first-aid trained cleaner.

PureGym is open at other times when it is completely unstaffed and, in those circumstances, there would have been signs up and tannoy announcements informing people that there was an emergency system.

The gym, which often operates unstaffed through the night, has an emergency button in most rooms and corridors, signs with a phone number to connect to a central operations room, and there was a defibrillator on the same floor as the room where Mr Best collapsed.

On the evening Mr Best collapsed, tannoy messages explaining emergency procedures were playing every 15 minutes, the inquest heard.

The presence of the cleaner, who was first aid certified at the time, ensured that the gym was designated as’staffed.’ The two men who arrived to assist looked for a gym employee but were unsuccessful.

The inquest heard that when paramedics arrived, they were unable to enter the building and had to call the emergency number on the door to connect to the control center in order to gain access. Once inside, they walked around calling out to find Mr Best, even calling back to check if they were in the right place.

Within minutes, one gym user did come down to meet them on the ground floor and take them to Mr Best, and they arrived at the scene in that room at 11:41pm.

The inquest heard that CCTV evidence revealed the cleaner had gone into a cleaning cupboard at 11:19pm, and had told council health and safety investigators that he had been wearing headphones.

CCTV footage viewed by police showed that one gym member, who was looking for a member of staff to help Mr Best, knocked on the cleaning cupboard door at 11:38pm, but the cleaner had not responded.

CCTV showed the cleaner left the cleaning cupboard at 11:46pm and continued working – completely unaware of the medical emergency on the fourth floor.

Henry Best: Bristol student , 21, collapsed and died late at night in PureGym

Dr. Harrowing stated that the absence of a member of staff in the room with Mr. Best did not influence the outcome because the paramedics were already on the scene when the gym user knocked on the cleaning cupboard door.

He said the gym’s staffing policy late at night was not ‘like a lifeguard in a fixed position’, and that the person there working was primarily as a cleaner.

Rachel Lyne, representing PureGym, stated that the assessment from Bristol City Council’s health and safety department did highlight “a level of misunderstanding” that existed at the time over whether the gym was staffed, and offered recommendations regarding the status of a “manned” or “unmanned” gym.

She stated that PureGym had learnt lessons and changed the way their gyms function at night, and that they no longer classified a gym as “staffed” if only a janitor was there.

The processes for the gym being ‘unstaffed’ were initiated in that situation, including tannoy announcements, signage, and messages on screens informing users that the facility was unstaffed.

Dr. Harrowing stated that he’made no criticism’ of the males in the gym who did not activate the emergency button, phone the gym’s emergency number, or locate the defibrillator, but instead searched the premises for a member of staff.

‘I have presided over enough inquests to know that members of the public may not always react in the best way in such difficult circumstances, and I make no judgement of these persons who were there with Holly,’ Dr Harrowing added.

On the need for a coroner’s recommendation to prevent further deaths, Dr Harrowing said: ‘I agree there were some issues relating to staffing but on the balance of probabilities, it wasn’t causative or contributory to the death of Mr Best.

‘Changes have been made. I do not consider it necessary to make recommendations. I welcome the actions taken by PureGym in this respect.’