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May 28, 2013

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Second prosecution in eight years sees boss jailed for manslaughter

The boss of a firm contracted by a Tyneside maritime construction company to dismantle a shipyard building has been jailed for the manslaughter by gross negligence of one his workers.

Allan Turnbull, 61, trading as A&H Site Line Boring and Machining, based in Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham was hired by North Eastern Maritime Offshore Cluster Ltd (NEMOC) to dismantle the structural steelwork of the roof of the Burning Hall at the Swan Hunter shipyard in Wallsend, Newcastle (pictured).

On 2 December 2008, Ken Joyce, 53, of Lanchester, Co. Durham, was working for Allan Turnbull at the site. During a four-week trial, which commenced on 22 April, Newcastle Crown Court heard Mr Joyce was working from one cherry-picker, while two colleagues were working from another cherry-picker and a crane. They were dismantling the structure and were using a crane to lower the steel beams to the ground.

While removing a beam brace connecting two plate girders, one of the plate girders struck the basket of the cherry-picker in which Mr Joyce was standing, knocking the equipment over.

Mr Joyce fell to the ground below and suffered serious head injuries. He was pronounced dead soon after.

The jury was told that NEMOC, which supplied the crane and crane driver, and its director, Christopher William Taylor, failed to ensure the safety of its employees and sub-contracted workers by neglecting to check that Mr Turnbull had the necessary competence to carry out the work.

A joint investigation carried out by Northumbria Police and the HSE also found that Allan Turnbull had failed to plan the work adequately after identifying a lack of suitable and sufficient lifting plans to ensure a safe system of work was in place for the dismantling of the structural steelwork.

HSE Principal Inspector Rob Hirst told SHP that the key element was that “the building became unstable due to the dismantling of the structural steel. Turnbull should have taken the advice of a competent engineer on how to dismantle it sequentially, as well as competent advice on lifting safely.

“Taylor should have engaged someone who had the necessary knowledge to do the work.”

In a prosecution brought by the CPS Turnbull pleaded not guilty to but was convicted of gross-negligence manslaughter following the trial. He had earlier pleaded guilty to breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the HSWA 1974. In sentencing him to three years in prison the judge said Mr Turnbull had not given a truthful account of what happened.

An aggravating feature was Turnbull’s previous prosecution, in November 2005, over an incident in which an employee sustained serious leg injuries while dismantling a redundant brick-manufacturing plant.

North Eastern Maritime Offshore Cluster Ltd (NEMOC), which had been operating from the Swan Hunter yard and is now in liquidation and did not appear in court, was fined £1 for each offence after it was found guilty in absence of breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the HSWA 1974.

Christopher William Taylor, 51, of Adderstone Crescent, Newcastle, pleaded not guilty to but was found guilty of breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) by virtue of section 37 of the HSWA 1974. He was fined a total of £30,000 (£15,000 for each offence) and ordered to pay £50,000 costs.

Speaking after the case, specialist prosecutor in the CPS Special Crime Division Alison Norton said: “Work in the shipyard was clearly dangerous and carried serious risks, but the real tragedy in this case is that had a safe system of work been put in place to appropriately manage these risks, Kenneth Joyce’s death could have been avoided.”

Chief Inspector Mark Anastasi, of Northumbria Police, added: “Swan Hunter shipyard formed a major part of the local community and, sadly, at the end of an era, during the dismantling process, Ken lost his life as a result of the mismanagement of the work. The failures from both the individuals and the company showed a total disregard for safe working practices.

“Ken’s employer failed to improve his work following a similar incident in 2005, yet he continued to perform dismantling work.”

“This complex and lengthy enquiry has shown that Northumbria Police and the HSE, with the support of the Crown Prosecution Service, will work in partnership to ensure offenders are brought to justice.”

Photo of Swan Hunter shipyard courtesy of The Victorian Web —

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