Category Archives: In Court

Construction Boss Jailed

A boss of a construction firm has received a 12 month prison sentence following trial at The Old Bailey.

Amanda Telfer was killed when a stack of large unglazed frames collapsed on her as she walked past a building site in Hanover Square, central London. Members of the public rushed to help, but Telfer could not be saved and she was pronounced dead at the scene just before noon on 30 August 2012.

A jury found the supervisor at IS Europe Ltd, Kelvin Adsett, 64, of Slough, Berkshire, guilty of manslaughter and breaching health and safety. It was said on his behalf that his life was destroyed as the result of “an aberration of carelessness”.

Sentencing him to 12 months in prison, Judge Peter Rook QC told him: “Your actions contributed to the wholly needless and untimely death of Amanda Telfer.” The judge said he had shown “reckless disregard” for what was a life-threatening situation.

Westgreen Construction Limited site manager Damian Lakin-Hall, 50, of Cobham, Surrey, was convicted of failing to take reasonable care of safety while at work.   Rook sentenced him to six months’ jail, suspended for two years.

The court had heard how the frames, which together weighed 655kg, had been left leaning against a wall after being delivered the previous day, before the site was ready for their installation.

Prosecutor Duncan Atkinson QC said it was “obvious to anyone” they carried a “clear and serious risk of death” to anyone walking past.

The frames were seen to move in the wind, prompting concern from the public that they might fall into the busy central London street. Another member of the public had almost been hit in a “near-miss” at the site just days before the fatal accident, the court heard.

Atkinson said: “There were a series of obvious and, in many cases, straightforward steps that could have been taken to avoid that risk – ranging from cancellation, delay, refusal of delivery on the one hand, to the storage, the use of straps and barriers. None were taken by any of the defendants and Amanda Telfer died as a result.”

Almost half a million pounds costs and fine for failings which resulted in death of elderly resident

Following our earlier post in relation to the court case brought by Surrey Fire and Rescue Service after the tragic death of Irene Cockerton, the operator of the sheltered housing scheme where she lived has been prosecuted and handed out fines and costs totally almost half a million pounds.

Among the failings found against Firstport were:

·         Omitting to carry out a suitable risk assessment which placed Mrs Cockerton and others in danger of death and serious injury from fire

·         Significant breaches in the integrity of roof space compartmentalisation which increased the spread of the flames

·         Greasy vapours and deposits from kitchens increased the danger of a blaze spreading

·         Failing to put in place a proper evacuation procedure in the event of a fire, particularly in view of the vulnerability of residents.

·         Omitting to act on warnings given earlier by people who had carried out past inspections and allowing the condition of the roof space fire curtains to fall into disrepair

·         Area and house managers not given satisfactory training – a failure which placed one or more persons at risk of death and injury in case of fire.

Sentencing yesterday Judge Stephen Climie slapped Firstport with a £600,000 fine, reduced to £400,000 on account of the company’s admissions and then £360,000 due to mitigating circumstances, including the company’s full co-operation with the investigation.

The Hampshire-based company was also ordered to pay an additional £100,000 court costs, bringing the total financial penalty to £460,000.

Judge Climie praised “the bravery” of Surrey Fire and Rescue Service, which brought the case against Firstport.

“The Surrey fire service are to be commended in terms of the way which they dealt with a very rapidly worsening situation,” he said.

Judge Climie also praised Mrs Cockerton’s family for their conduct during the case: “I note the extraordinary dignity with which her family have faced this case,” he said.

 

Care home facing massive fine after inadequate fire safety precautions led to fatal blaze

Irene Cockerton, 87, from west London, died in the fire at Gibson Court, Hinchley Wood, in September 2011

Inadequate fire safety precautions led to the death of an 87-year-old widow in her smoke-filled flat after a raging inferno engulfed the roof of a block of retirement apartments

The blaze, which claimed the life of Irene Cockerton from west London, swept through the loft of Gibson Court in a matter of minutes because there were no compartmental walls to check its progress

The fire was accelerated by a build-up of cooking grease caused by the kitchen vents of the flats, which opened into the roof space instead of through outside walls, the court was told.

Poor staff training in emergency exit procedures also put the lives of Mrs Cockerton’s 22 fellow residents and their fire-fighting rescuers in peril, the hearing heard.

The four-count indictment admitted by Firstport covered a host of failings by the Hampshire-based company, including:

  • Omitting to carry out a suitable risk assessment which placed Mrs Cockerton and others in danger of death and serious injury from fire
  • Significant breaches in the integrity of roof space compartmentalisation which increased the spread of the flames
  • Greasy vapours and deposits from kitchens increased the danger of a blaze spreading
  • Failing to put in place a proper evacuation procedure in the event of a fire, particularly in view of the vulnerability of residents.
  • Omitting to act on warnings given earlier by people who had carried out past inspections and allowing the condition of the roof space fire curtains to fall into disrepair
  • Area and house managers not given satisfactory training – a failure which placed one or more persons at risk of death and injury in case of fire.

Lawyer’s death was preventable – 4 on trial

The trial of 4 people and 3 companies commenced in February at The Old Bailey after the tragic death of a young lawyer back in 2012.

Amanda Telfer, 43, was killed when window frames due to be installed in a building in Hanover Square fell onto her as she walked past the building.  The window frames had been left stacked up against a wall the previous day, unsecured, unrestrained and weighing a total of half a tonne.

Four people and three companies deny a total of 13 charges over her death.

Prosecutor Duncan Atkinson QC said builders were not ready to install the frames but that they were delivered anyway.

He said it was “obvious to anyone” that the heavy frames, which together weighed 1,444lb (655kg), carried a “clear and serious risk of death”, including to those walking past.

Mr Atkinson told the court: “There were a series of obvious and, in many cases, straightforward steps that could have been taken to avoid that risk, ranging from cancellation, delay, refusal of delivery on the one hand, to the storage, the use of straps and barriers.

“None were taken by any of the defendants and Amanda Telfer died as a result.”

The jury at the Old Bailey was told how another member of the public had almost been hit in a “near-miss” at the site just days before the fatal accident.

Work was “routinely carried out” on the pavement and equipment was stored there overnight, but there was no external barrier to separate the working area from the public, Mr Atkinson said.

“In the days before the accident, a plywood hoarding had fallen from one of the apertures on the building, almost hitting a member of the public as he made his way home.”

Mr Atkinson said the alleged incident raised questions over health and safety at the site.

Damian Lakin-Hall, 50, from Cobham, Surrey, Claire Gordon, 36, from Leeds, and 64-year-old Kelvin Adsett – also known as Kelvin Schultz – from, Slough, Berkshire, deny manslaughter and health and safety breaches.

Steven Rogers, 62, from Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, pleaded not guilty to a single charge of failure to take reasonable care for safety while at work as an employee of Westgreen Construction.

IS Europe of Slough, Westgreen Construction, of Richmond in Surrey, and Drawn Metal of Leeds, also deny health and safety charges.

Estate agents fined after househunter falls 30ft down a well during property viewing

Swindon Magistrates’ Court heard how, during an open house viewing a prospective buyer stepped onto a wooden board which was covering a well.  The board gave way and she fell 30ft down the well, where she became submerged by water. A hosepipe was thrown to the woman and she managed to secure it around her waist it was another hour before she was recused from the well. The incident left the victim with head injuries, including concussion but also suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The incident occurred while the estate agents were holding an open house viewing at a property.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the estate agents had been warned about the well and the board that was covering it did not look safe. The company did not properly investigate if there was a risk of people falling down the well when they were viewing the property. It was heard that a Strakers’ employee had visited the house, and assumed that the wooden board would have a metal grill underneath it. He did not however lift the board to check.

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Matthew Tyler said: “This incident could have easily become a fatal tragedy. If, when warned, of the unsafe well the company had properly checked to see if it was secure the trauma this individual has gone through could have been prevented.

“Employers must check the risks associated with their work to protect their workers and members of the public they have contact with. Once they have identified any risks they can take practical steps to control them.”

Suspended jail sentence for fire risk assessor

South Wales Fire and Rescue Service (SWFRS) is advising Fire Risk Assessors from across the South Wales area to take due diligence of their legal obligations when undertaking fire risk assessments on behalf of organisations.

A Fire Risk Assessor from Barry pleaded guilty to 13 separate charges relating to failures in carrying out suitable and sufficient fire risk assessments. The fire risk assessment failed to identify serious fire safety deficiencies in a number of St David’s Hospice Care premises.

As a result of two devastating fires at St. David’s Hospice’s retail outlets in Pontypool and Newbridge, an investigation was undertaken by South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. Subsequently, Business Fire Safety Officers visited over 30 of their premises which identified serious failings with the fire risk assessments that had been undertaken.

Steve Rossiter, Head of Business Fire Safety for South Wales Fire and Rescue Service said, “The court has today sent a strong message to would-be fire risk assessors, that there is a clear expectation that as an assessor, you must be competent at carrying out a Fire Risk Assessment. This means having a good understanding of fire safety requirements, both technically and practically. Suitable and sufficient fire risk assessments are at the heart of ensuring safe buildings and as such holds significant responsibilities.

Southwark Council Pleads Guilty following fatal Lakanal House Blaze

Southwark Council expressed its “sincere regret” as it pleaded guilty to four charges relating to a tower block fire which killed six people.

Three women and three young children were killed in the 2009 blaze at Lakanal House in Camberwell, Southwark Crown Court heard.

The fire started due an electrical fault with a television.

Southwark Council pleaded guilty to charges relating to safety breaches and must pay £300,000 costs.

The council will be sentenced on Tuesday, where it is expected to be fined.

The charges, dating from 1 October 2006 to 3 July 2009, include a failure to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, failure to take general fire precautions – including in relation to safety of employees – and a failure to ensure that premises were subject to a suitable system of maintenance.

Following the hearing, councillor Stephanie Cryan, Southwark’s cabinet member for housing, said: “We took the decision to plead guilty to all four counts of breach of fire safety regulations associated with the Lakanal building on the July 2 2009, the day before the fire.

“This is because, as an authority, we fully accept responsibility for the fire safety of all our council homes. The fact remains that the council did not have a Fire Risk Assessment for Lakanal in place on this date. Without this record, we can never categorically decide on the fire safety of the building before the fire happened.

This tragic fire and the deaths of six people in 2009, have meant that the council has had to reflect hard on the mistakes of the past.  Since then, we have spent £62m on our fire risk assessment programme and associated fire safety works for all of our council housing in the borough. We have worked closely with London Fire Brigade and meet regularly with them, informing them of progress on the risk profile of the borough and agreeing with them the strategy and actions we are taking to ensure fire safety remains a high priority for the council.”

An inquest into the six victim’s death was held in 2013, which returned narrative, highlighting “numerous missed opportunities” to carry out fire safety checks inside the building.

Camberwell and Peckham MP, Harriet Harman gave a statement that also put blame on the London Fire Brigade.

She said: “No-one would have died if the Fire Brigade had instructed people to leave their flats. The Fire Brigade, too, were responsible because as the fire spread and the safety measures failed, they failed to change their instructions to residents.

“Those who ignored the Fire Brigade’s instructions to stay put escaped with their lives. Those who accepted the instructions to stay in their flat died.  The Fire Brigade say they too have learned lessons.

“This prosecution sends a strong message not just to the London Borough of Southwark but to all landlords, public and private, that their tenants’ safety must be an absolute priority”.

London Fire Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety Dan Daly said: “It is important to say that this prosecution is not focused on the fire that happened on 3 July 2009 or on the tragic loss of life following the fire but on the risk of death and serious injury from fire that existed at Lakanal between 2006 and July 2009.

“Millions of people in London live in purpose built blocks of flats. Our advice remains the same, that living in a flat is not more dangerous than living in a house but it’s important to know that your fire plan should be different.

“If buildings are built and maintained correctly, walls, floors and doors in flats and maisonettes give you protection from fire – a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes – so, if there is a fire elsewhere in the building but not inside your home you’re safer staying in your flat unless heat or smoke is affecting you. Stay put and call 999.

“If you leave your flat you could be rushing into choking smoke, the fire itself or firefighters using equipment to bring the fire under control in another part of the building.

“If there is a fire inside your flat or maisonette or you are being directly affected by it our advice is to leave, closing the door behind you and call 999.”

Director disqualified and sent to prison for safety failings which led to young worker suffering serious burns

HSE reports that the director of a construction company has been imprisoned for eight months after failing to take appropriate action which resulted in a young worker receiving serious burns.

Cardiff Crown Court heard the young worker was instructed to stand on top of a skip and pour a drum of flammable thinners onto the burning waste to help it to burn. The fireball that resulted when the thinners ignited caused the worker to be blown from the skip and he suffered substantial burns to his arms and legs.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company director did not ensure the burning of the waste material was being carried out in a safe or appropriate manner. He failed to administer any first aid to the young injured worker and did not send him to hospital, the most appropriate response given the severity of the injuries suffered. He failed to inform HSE of the incident, a legal requirement, and the incident was only reported sometime later by a third party

Speaking after the case HSE inspector Adele Davies said “David Stead failed his employees. His actions could have resulted in the death of this worker. The young man suffered unnecessary life threatening injuries due to poor working standards.

“We hope this sentence sends out a message that directors of businesses must take their health and safety responsibilities seriously.”

8 month prison sentence following fatal fall

The HSE has reported on a court case involving a Manchester Building Contractor who engaged unqualified labourers for roof works.

The building contractor has been jailed for 8 months following the death of a casual labourer who fell nearly seven metres through a fragile roof.

The 45-year-old labourer from Manchester had been carrying out repair work when the incident occurred on 23 November 2013.

The building contractor had been engaged by the warehouse owner, who believed him to be competent, to carry out repair and maintenance work on the warehouse roof. He then hired two people to do the work.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that both workers were not qualified to carry out work at height. They had accessed the roof via a ladder in order to repair and seal leaking guttering. No safety precautions were in place to protect the two men from the danger of falling through the fragile roof.

Manchester Crown Court heard that The building contractor failed to assess the risks or put a safe working method in place. No suitable training or equipment to work on the roof had been provided.

Speaking after the hearing HSE Principal Inspector Mike Sebastian is reported to have said: ”The dangers of falls through fragile roofs and working at height are well known. Simple steps such as removing the need to access the roof directly by using mobile working platforms, or boarding out the roof, or using safety harnesses, can and should be used to prevent accident and injury.

The failure to take any such actions resulted in a tragic and needless loss of life.

Southwark Council to be prosecuted over Lakanal House blaze in 2009

The London Evening Standard has reported that London Fire Brigade are to prosecute Southwark Council over the fatal fire that happened at Lakanal House in Camberwell back in 2009.

6 People lost their lives in the fire.  The inquest into the fire identified fire safety deficiencies with the building, lack of fire risk assessments across a number of buildings under Southwark’s ownership and control, along with issues with firefighting operations on the day of the fire.

It is unclear exactly why it has taken so long for a prosecution to be brought, but it is noted that Southwark Council had previously and unsuccessfully argued that there was a conflict of interest in London Fire Brigade taking the prosecution.  Their argument of a conflict of interest was based on criticisms in fire fighting operations from the inquest and the close involvement of London Fire Brigade with Southwark, including the delivery of fire risk assessment training for staff.  However, the High Court ruled there was no conflict of interest and that opened the way for a prosecution to be brought.

The case is due to be heard in Southwark Crown Court on January 11th 2017.