Suspended jail term for Colchester construction boss after fatal roof fall near Newmarket

Robert Bird died after falling from height last year

Robert Bird died after falling from height last year - Credit: Archant

A man who admitted failing to safeguard one of his employees has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years.

Michael Turner, 49, of Parley Beams Cottages, Earls Colne, Colchester, who was sentenced at Inner London Crown Court on Friday, had pleaded guilty to gross negligent manslaughter after one of his employees, and friend of 15 years, fell to his death 30 feet through a roof.

Robert Bird, 57, of Mersea Road, Colchester, had been carrying out work as an employee of MT Construction, owned by Turner, on a barn roof in Kennett, near Newmarket, on May 20 last year.

A joint investigation was launched by Cambridgeshire police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Following his arrest on suspicion of gross negligent manslaughter on June 2, Turner answered ‘no comment’ to all questions put to him in an interview.

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Investigating officers had been told how Turner had a ‘near miss’ on the same roof just days before Mr Bird’s death. He had stepped on a panel and heard a crack, before moving away and seeing the roof panel cave in.

An HSE report read: “MT Construction developed a system of work which relied on using new roof sheets as a safe working platform but this was fundamentally flawed in that the unsafe practice of ‘walking the bolts’ was routinely adopted while laying out and attaching the fixing bars.

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“A competent roofing contractor would not be carrying out the work adopting the system of work adopted by MT Construction, and a competent roofing supervisor would not have put his workforce in such a vulnerable position.

“The standard of safety management exhibited fell far below the standard expected of a competent roofing contractor and was woefully inadequate.”

The report also concluded Mr Bird either slipped, tripped or walked from a newly fixed sheet onto a fragile one, and as a result of the lack of a barrier, fell to his death.

Detective chief inspector Jon McAdam, from Cambridgeshire Constabulary, said: “This truly tragic event just goes to show how important it is to have appropriate health and safety measures in place.

“Turner has already paid the ultimate price of losing one of his employees, and friends – that will be with him forever. My thoughts are with both families at this sad time.”

Linda Christian-Booth, who led the HSE team, said: “Falls from height, and in particular falls involving fragile roofs, are one of the main causes of work-related deaths in Britain. The risks are therefore well-known and documented, as is the guidance on how to reduce these risks.

“Adequate precautions were not taken in this case, such as netting and edge protection, which has led to the dreadful tragedy of Mr Bird falling 30 feet to his death.”

Upon sentencing, the judge accepted the depth of Turner’s remorse and suspended his sentence for two years after saying he felt an immediate prison sentence was not appropriate in this case.

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