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April 24, 2013

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Illegal gas work results in community service for installer

A man risked lives by illegally carrying out gas work while professing to be a registered gas fitter.

Duncan Johnstone, 52, from Nantwich, Cheshire, was given a suspended six-month prison sentence and ordered to carry out 300 hours of community service by Crewe magistrates on 19 April, after he carried out illegal gas work at three homes in the town. He left gas fittings at one of them in an immediately dangerous condition, meaning that the work could lead to a gas leak, fire, explosion, or carbon-monoxide poisoning.

The court heard that after removing two gas fires from a house in Walthall Street, Crewe, in October 2010, Johnstone failed to cap-off the gas pipes, so that gas could be released if a valve was left open.

He had also installed gas central heating at two other Crewe houses, despite not being a registered gas fitter. When he visited the houses, a Gas Safe Register investigator found defects with Johnstone’s work that were putting lives at risk.

Johnstone returned to all three properties on several occasions between 2007 and 2011 to carry out repairs and also carried out illegal annual gas-safety checks at the houses. An HSE investigation found he had used two fake Gas Safe Register ID numbers when completing the formal documents on the gas checks, giving the false impression they met strict legal requirements. He was issued a Prohibition Notice on 16 January last year.

Johnstone pleaded guilty to breaching:

  • reg.3(3) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 by carrying out illegal gas work at all three properties;
  • reg.3(7) of the same Regulations by pretending to be an approved gas fitter at various residential properties; and
  • reg.6(3) of the same Regulations by not sealing off gas pipes after removing a gas fitting at the Walthall Street house.

He was told to pay full prosecution costs of £2702.

In mitigation, Johnstone offered a prompt admission of guilt and cooperated with the investigation. He also said he had stopped carrying out gas work after the Prohibition Notice was served last year and was hoping to train to become competent.

Deborah Walker, the HSE inspector who prosecuted the case in court, said after the hearing: “Duncan Johnstone carried out illegal and unsafe gas work over a period of nearly eight years and it is lucky no one was seriously harmed as a result.

“The gas fittings at one of the properties were found to be in an immediately dangerous condition and I dread to think what the consequences could have been if this had not been identified.

“Gas work has the potential to cost lives if it is not carried out by registered gas fitters. We will therefore continue to prosecute anyone who ignores the law.”

Russell Kramer, chief executive of Gas Safe Register, commented: “A quarter of a million illegal gas jobs are carried out every year by people who don’t have the skills or the qualifications to work safely with gas. One in five of the illegal gas jobs we investigate are found to be immediately dangerous, as was the case in this instance.

“This means that the work could lead to a gas leak, fire, explosion, or carbon-monoxide poisoning. It is therefore vital that people always make sure they only use a registered gas engineer.”

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