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November 7, 2016

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Manslaughter acquittal after deaths of sea shanty band members

A company boss has been acquitted of two charges of manslaughter by gross negligence after two people were killed when a two-tonne stage door fell at a theatre.

David Naylor, 57, of Bridgnorth was acquitted last Thursday after the incident at the G Live theatre in Guildford in February 2013, but his company was found guilty of breaching health and safety laws.

Trevor Grills, 54, a vocalist with a sea shanty group ‘Fisherman’s Friends’ and Paul McMullen, 44, the band promoter, both suffered catastrophic injuries when the steel door supplied by Mr Naylor’s company fell and hit them in February 2013.

Mr McMullen died at the scene after being trapped from the waist down underneath the door, suffering severe injuries to his pelvis and legs.

Mr Grills, a father-of-three, was taken to hospital and died three days later after being “struck to the head”. He had been singing with the Cornwall-based band for 16 years and had been due to perform at the venue that night.

Guildford Crown Court heard that the door allowed backstage access from the outside of the building.

It had been folded in half and was being lifted “like a canopy” above the two men when it collapsed.

The fatal incident occurred when two drive chains linking the motor and the gearbox to the drive shaft failed, causing the door to plummet to the ground.

The chains themselves failed after a misalignment of the drive sprockets.

Previous incidents

Four similar failures on company doors had occurred before 2010, the court heard.

In 2003, a hangar door collapsed at Shoreham Airport, prompting Mr Naylor to write in a memo: “We have a major problem.”

The judge, Philippa Whipple, said: “There was a failure to respond adequately.

“The company made some modifications, but it failed to respond more fundamentally to ensure it had taken all practicable measures.

“There was an obvious risk of death or serious injury although the likelihood was not high. One of the previous incidents could have had catastrophic results.”

Sentencing

The court heard that Mr Naylor’s company, Express Hi-Fold Doors Limited had barely traded in 2015 and was essentially liquidated.

In sentencing, judge Whipple said that the penalty had to act as a “deterrent”.

Using the new sentencing guidelines, she said: “Culpability must be assessed as high. I accept that there was not deliberate disregard for the law, but the company fell far short of the appropriate health and safety standard.”

Express Hi-Fold Doors Limited was given the £30,000 penalty at Guildford Crown Court after being found guilty of a breach of health and safety laws.

The court heard Mr Naylor had not taken any salary from his company in 2014 and 2015. He was not in court when the sentence was returned.

Paying tribute to the victims and their families, many of whom sat through the four-week trial, the judge said: “This was an accident between friends as much as singers.

“I’m sure I speak for all involved in this trial when I extend my deepest sympathies to the families of those two men.

“They died too young and I am sure they are greatly missed.”

The band ‘Fisherman’s Friends’ was discovered by a record company who was on holiday in Cornwall ten years ago.

Following the deaths of Mr Grills and Mr McMullen in 2013, the band ceased performing for a while, but have since resumed.

The sea shanty band, discovered by a record company executive on holiday in Cornwall a decade ago, earned chart success with a top-ten album and performed on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury festival. They also appeared in commercials advertising a frozen food brand.

The video below shows a performance of Shenandoah given by Fisherman’s Friends, led by Trevor Grills.

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