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February 11, 2014

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Corporate manslaughter “ruled out” following four deaths

 

A coroner has yet to record a cause of death following a lengthy police investigation that ruled out corporate manslaughter charges after four men died over three years ago, a court has heard.
 
Daniel Hazelton, 30, and Adam Taylor, 28, both of Rickinghall, Suffolk, and Thomas Hazelton, 26, and Peter Johnson, 42, both of Stanton, near Bury St Edmunds, died on 21 January 2011. 
 
An inquest heard the four men were killed after an underground cage they were working in collapsed at Claxton Engineering, in North River Road, Great Yarmouth where a high-pressure test bay for offshore components was being built.
 
The men had been working inside a cage below ground level in an excavation the length of a tennis court, the jury heard as the inquest opened near Norwich yesterday (10 February).
 
The steel structure was to reinforce the concrete base of a unit to test offshore pipes, forming part of a £1.5m new test facility. 
 
John Elvin, for the HSE, described the moment the cage collapsed with the men inside as a “racking movement” best likened to a “collapsing picnic table”.
 
Operation Madera, headed jointly by Norfolk police and the HSE, ran for 13 months and the file was with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in London for around a year. In February 2013, CPS ruled that no criminal charges — of individual gross negligence or of corporate manslaughter — would be brought.
 
DCI Andy Guy, of the joint Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigations Team, said he had challenged this decision but the result came back the same.
 
Speaking on the first day of a week-long jury inquest at Sprowston Manor, DCI Guy expressed concern that the case had been passed between lawyers three times. He said the CPS must have deemed there to be no realistic prospect of securing a conviction.
 
The HSE has yet to reveal whether a civil case will be pursued. 
 
John Elvin of the HSE said, in a presentation, that the men were working on a reinforced concrete base of a horizontal test bed when they died. He said access to the trench was via a ladder, some of the side wall had collapsed and water needed to be pumped out of it.
 
The area was “marsh land” and had needed piling work earlier in the build, he added. The site was deemed unsafe for investigation after the deaths due to unsupported side walls, and further piling work was needed.
 
Mark Aylen, procurement manager for Claxton Engineering, said he had raised concerns about the men working inside the metal cage.
 
He said a worker for project builders Encompass had assured him groundwork sub-contractors Hazegood knew how to work properly. 
 
Mr Aylen also expressed concern that the edges of the trench were crumbling and he said workers did not always wear protective eyewear or hard hats. 
 
Robert Horner, for the families of the deceased men, questioned Mr Aylen’s role in health and safety.
 
The inquest continues.
 
As this is an ongoing case we will not be accepting comments on this article.

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