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Worlingworth: Judge issues fines for safety breaches on site where workmen Matthew Skeet and Kevin Ruffles died

17:43 14 February 2014

Matthew Skeet, from Melton, was killed by a falling barn wall in Worlingworth in October 2010

Matthew Skeet, from Melton, was killed by a falling barn wall in Worlingworth in October 2010

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A structural engineer and a construction firm have been fined thousands of pounds for breaching safety regulations on a site in Suffolk where two workmen died.

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Matthew Skeet, 19, and Kevin Ruffles, 57, were killed when the gable wall of a barn conversion they were working on in Worlingworth collapsed and fell on them on October 21, 2010.

Ipswich firm Elliston Steady & Hawes (Building) Ltd, the site contractor, and Barry Potts, 65, a structural engineer from Freston, appeared before Ipswich Crown Court today, having previously pleaded guilty to health and safety offences at an earlier hearing.

The incident was investigated by the Joint Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team, working closely with the Health and Safety Executive.

Last June Potts was summonsed to court for two counts of manslaughter by gross negligence and one offence under the health and safety act, and legal representatives for a local building were issued summons for two offences under the health and safety act.

At a hearing at Southwark Crown Court in December, guilty pleas were offered on behalf of Potts and ESH in relation to health and safety breaches.

Mr Justice Rabinder Singh, passing sentence today, acknowledged there was never any suggestion ESH’s failing had caused the two men’s deaths, and said no cause could be proven with Potts’ failings.

However he said Potts had fallen “well bellow the standards expected by him of the health and safety at work act” and fined him £15,000, ordering him to pay a further £5,000 in costs.

And although he agreed that ESH was “entitled to rely upon” Potts to carry out the work safely, Mr Singh said its failure to ensure that written statements were provided, constituted a “serious breach” and fined the firm £45,000, ordering it to pay a further £15,000 in costs.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Smith, who led the inquiry, said: “This was a tragic incident in which two men lost their lives. It has taken over three years to achieve the sentencing outcome today and I am conscious that this has caused additional heartache for Kevin and Matthew’s families.

“I would stress that the investigation into how the wall collapsed and the surrounding circumstances has been very complex and demanding for a number of reasons.

“After the wall collapse the Malting’s building needed to be made safe, before structural engineering experts and investigators could properly examine the site.”
During the investigation, more than 200 witness statements were given and a number of key personnel were interviewed.

Det Ch Insp Smith added: “In passing sentence Mr Justice Singh, has recognised that both Barry Potts and Elliston Steady and Hawes (Building) Limited committed serious breaches of health and safety regulations.

“In the case of Potts it was confirmed that the evidence demonstrated his conduct fell far below that which could be expected of a competent engineer.

“He failed to inspect and test the foundations underpinning the wall and gave advice to Kevin Ruffles which was grossly negligent.

“Unfortunately, at the time this incident occurred, Elliston Steady and Hawes (building) Limited were not managing the Malting’s building project as they should have been. They missed an opportunity to challenge Potts’ negligent advice, they failed to secure written method statements and did not appoint a temporary works co-ordinator.

“I know that the sentences passed today will provide little comfort for Matthew and Kevin’s families and our thoughts remain with them at this time.

“I hope that in some way this case and today’s outcome will act as a stark reminder to the construction industry of the ever present dangers in their work and the fatal consequences of failing to implement appropriate health and safety measures.”
Investigating Health and Safety Executive Inspector Lesley Balkham added: “This was an entirely preventable incident that resulted in the tragic deaths of two people working on a construction site. There were basic failings in the way the work was planned and managed.

“Those working in construction, especially contractors and designers, need to make sure that construction work is planned and carried out safely. Structures such as walls and excavations must be supported during construction work so they do not become unstable and liable to collapse.”

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