Inquest Into Navy Officer's Death

An inquest has heard how a Royal Naval officer fell 40ft to his death after going on to a landing craft suspended at the side of a helicopter carrier without safety gear.

Lieutenant Joshua Woodhouse was serving as an engineering officer on board the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean which was visiting the Mayport naval station in Jacksonville, Florida, USA, at the time of the incident which happened on August 6, 2010.

The 25-year-old from Portsmouth died in hospital four days later from a severe head injury suffered in the fall.

The Portsmouth inquest heard that Lt Woodhouse had gone on to the landing craft vessel personnel (LCVP) as it was suspended in its bay at the side of the warship, the second largest in the navy.

He then fell from the craft, landing on another LCVP which was moored in the water together with another craft next to HMS Ocean.

The inquest heard that Lt Woodhouse had gone on board the small craft with a colleague, Petty Officer Matthew Fulton, with the intention of checking some flexible hoses when the accident happened.

But despite the LCVP being suspended at height, Lt Woodhouse was not wearing a safety harness or helmet.

The inquest heard that PO Fulton did not see the fall with the only witnesses being on board a USS warship which was sailing past.

Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Wilson, of the RN special investigations branch, said:

''He was seen to slide down from the bridge roof and lose his footing as he reached the next level.

''He was seen to grab for the handrail before falling.''

Lt Cdr Wilson said that Lt Woodhouse had gone ashore the previous night and consumed a number of alcoholic drinks and added that a colleague, Lt Lisa Pitman, had described him as ''appearing slightly shabby and with slightly bloodshot eyes'' on the morning of the fall.

However another colleague, Lt Jennifer Hayes described him as being ''bright and happy'' that morning and did not appear ''dishevelled''.

Lt Cdr Wilson said that concerns had been raised in a report in December 2008 about health and safety procedures on board HMS Ocean but which did not appear to have been addressed, only leading to ''confusing advice'' for the crew.

Lt Cdr Wilson said that there did not appear to be a consistent working at height policy followed by crew members, meaning that colleagues took differing precautions when using the LCVPs.

He described how, following the accident, two further members of the ship's company had also gone on to the suspended LCVP without safety gear to take photographs of the scene.

Lt Cdr Wilson also described how the surface of the LCVP was greasy, possibly caused by oil on the davits being disturbed by recent tropical weather.

He added that there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the fall or suggestion of suicide.

Portsmouth coroner David Horsley said: ''This is the inquest into the tragic death of a young naval officer near to the start of his career.''

Lt Woodhouse began his officer training at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth in January 2007 before carrying out his initial sea training on HMS Illustrious.

He went on to serve on HMS Edinburgh, HMS Nottingham and HMS Scott before he joined HMS Ocean in January 2010.

HMS Ocean had a high-profile role in defending London during the Olympics when it was stationed on the River Thames.

The hearing into his death is expected to last two weeks.