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August 16, 2009

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Unaccredited gas fitter jailed for manslaughter

A gas fitter has been jailed for three years on manslaughter charges after two people died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Cardiff Crown Court heard that Margaret Powell and Thomas Morgan died during the weekend of 16-17 December 2006, after inhaling toxic fumes emitted from a warm-air central-heating system, which had been serviced by Peter Tongue the previous month.

Tongue carried out the work at the premises in Port Talbot, Wales but failed to clean the boiler’s flue, which siphons the combustible gas out of the system. Consequently, this area of the boiler became blocked by a build-up of the gas compound, and the carbon monoxide was pushed round the system and released through heating ducts in the floor of the property.  

An investigation by the HSE discovered that although Tongue was correctly registered with CORGI (now Gas Safe Register), his accreditation to work on warm-air central-heating systems had elapsed.  

HSE inspector, Hugh Emment, told SHP: “Peter Tongue worked on Mrs Powell’s gas central-heating system but his accreditation to work on that particular system had lapsed three years previously. As a result, his knowledge of the system was not up to date. Gas workers must take competency tests to work on these systems every five years and Mr Tongue should have been well aware of this.”

The HSE also inspected four other properties that Tongue had worked on, which all had warm-air central-heating systems. The inspector found numerous faults in each of these and also discovered Tongue had failed to identify faults on a gas fire at one of the properties.

Tongue appeared in court on 30 July and was found guilty on two counts of manslaughter and six breaches of s2(3) of the HSWA 1974. He was given a three-year custodial sentence for each manslaughter charge, to run concurrently, but no further punishment was administered for the safety breaches.

In mitigation, the court heard that Tongue had no previous convictions and he deeply regretted the passing of the victims. He also said he had taken competency tests to gain accreditation to work on wet central-heating systems, and he thought that he had been tested to work on warm-air central-heating systems at the same time.

Inspector Emment added: “This tragic case demonstrates why it is essential that gas engineers only work on appliances where their competence has been assessed and that they are on the Gas Safe Register.

“All gas engineers must carry a card detailing the appliances they are permitted to work on. Householders should always check these details before allowing work to be carried out, as properly registered engineers will be more than happy to prove their competence. I am convinced these deaths would have been avoided if Mr Tongue had undertaken the correct competency testing.”

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