Towns mourn slurry tank victims

By Dave GooderhamTWO towns are in mourning today for three men who were killed in a horrific industrial accident. Timothy Bartram, Graham Morris and George Barnes were named yesterday as the men who died when they were overcome by fumes in a 12ft slurry tank.

By Dave Gooderham

TWO towns are in mourning today for three men who were killed in a horrific industrial accident.

Timothy Bartram, Graham Morris and George Barnes were named yesterday as the men who died when they were overcome by fumes in a 12ft slurry tank.

Mr Bartram, 46, from Thetford, leaves an ex-wife and two sons aged 17 and 15. Mr Morris, 54, also from Thetford, leaves a wife, two sons aged 31 and 25, and a 29-year-old daughter.

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Mr Barnes. 28, from Brandon, was engaged to be married and leaves a fiancée, a mother, a father and three brothers.

Mystery still surrounds why the men were working on the tank, but it is believed Mr Bartram became overcome by the fumes when he opened a hatch on top of the tank.

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Mr Morris and Mr Barnes bravely tried to rescue Mr Bartram, but also became overcome by the hazardous fumes.

All three men died at the scene while a fourth man, Daniel Willimott, 28, from Thetford, managed to escape from the tank.

The tragic deaths of the three men have sparked a wave of tributes from the tight-knit communities, led by Thetford mayor Ray Key.

Choking back tears, he said: “It is so awful, so sad, so desperate. Three families have been left absolutely devastated and there is nothing you can say to them.

“It is a dark day for everyone in the Thetford community. These men were all absolute heroes. For two guys to go in after another, where does that kind of bravery come from?

“You read about people in times of war doing desperate things, but for this kind of thing to happen now is unimaginable.”

Norfolk South West MP, Gillian Shephard, said she was appalled by the accident.

“It is made all the more tragic by the fact two of the victims died while trying to save the third man,” she added.

“It is a terrible accident to happen in the 21st Century, but it also demonstrates the great courage of the would-be rescuers.”

Thetford district councillor Derek Mortimer said: “It is an absolute and utter tragedy for the whole of Thetford.

“But it just goes to show the comradeship men still retain - that they were able to put their own lives at risk and consequently lose their own lives.”

It is thought the men were preparing to spread slurry made from chicken waste on wheat fields in Great Hockham, near Thetford, on Monday morning when the tragedy happened.

Prohibition notices were issued yesterday by the Health and Safety Executive on Thetford company Enviro-Waste, for whom the men worked.

Health and Safety Executive inspector Paul Carter, who is leading the investigation, said: “We are of the opinion safety arrangements were not sufficient to control the risk and prevent such a tragic accident that arose on Monday morning.

“We have served on the company prohibition notices stopping any unsafe access to their remaining seven slurry tanks.

“The agreement is that the company will take steps to prevent access by way of fixing barriers across the entrance.”

Mr Carter said the move was aimed at ensuring the slurry tanks could not be entered by either company employees or people walking or playing near the sites.

He added: “According to the company, there should be no need for employees to gain access to these tanks.

“There is clearly a mismatch between what happened and the arrangements made by the company and this is something the inquiry will have to pursue.

“We don't know why the men were in the tank. We don't know yet whether the first man, Mr Bartram, fell or had climbed down and this is something that has to be solved.”

A statement from Enviro-Waste said last night: “This tragedy has deeply affected everyone in the small and close knit team that is Enviro-Waste Ltd.

“We greatly appreciate the kind words and tributes we have received from our customers, suppliers, and local network of friends and family.”

It added: “Investigations are continuing into the tragic and sudden deaths of three of our employees.

“Further to discussions with the Health and Safety Executive, a prohibition order that was served on Enviro-Waste Ltd has been lifted this afternoon as a result of compliance with the Health and Safety Executive requirements.”

Police divers spent yesterday examining the tank and Detective Inspector Paul Durham, of Thetford police, said: “We are continuing our investigation into Sunday's tragic incident in conjunction with the Health and Safety Executive, who continue to be the lead agency.

“We have appointed a police family liaison officer who will offer support and assistance to the bereaved families at this extremely sad time.”

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