Men involved in church collapse which saw scaffolder crushed to death are spared jail - Wales Online

2022-07-29 23:42:23 By : Ms. Chole Xu

'I am left with the firm impression that no one said anything because they assumed everything was fine,' said the judge

Men involved in a project where a scaffolder was crushed to death have been spared from jail.

Jeff Plevey had been part of the team demolishing the Citadel Church in the Splott area of Cardiff when he was killed in July 2017. The body of the 56-year-old grandfather was recovered from beneath a ton of rubble at the site.

Following the death South Wales Police and the Health and Safety Executive launched a major investigation into what happened which resulted in criminal charges against some people and companies.

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In the summer of 2017 the Victorian church – which was mainly used by the Salvation Army until it became vacant around 20 years ago and fell into disrepair – was being demolished ahead of the site being sold to a developer. As part of the project an extensive scaffolding structure was erected around the building.

Mr Plevey was killed on the afternoon of July 18 when the rear wall of the church collapsed and brought down the scaffolding he was working on. Two other scaffolders on site managed to scramble to safety with only minor physical injuries with one avoiding falling masonry by just inches.

Railway workers on the nearby Splott Bridge heard a "loud crack" and "a bang" described as "like a small explosion". They heard men shouting "run" before the scaffolding around the church collapsed with another "huge bang". The workers hurried to the scene to find those who had escaped looking "distressed" and repeatedly saying: "Jeff is inside".

Mr Plevey's body was later recovered from the wreckage. He had suffered multiple and fatal injuries.

In impact statements from his family his daughter Lauren described how he would "instantly light up a room" and how he cherished the time he spent with his grandchildren.

And his son Joshua – a soldier who has completed tours of duty in Afghanistan – said his father had been taken from his children and grandchildren too young.

In a 10-week trial at Swansea Crown Court the prosecution said management of the project was "dysfunctional" and there had been a failure to properly acknowledge and manage the risk presented by the unstable rear wall. Had the building regulations been followed the "fatality could not have occurred", said the prosecution.

Keith Young, director of Young Contractors which had been contracted to demolish the church, was convicted of failing to take necessary steps to ensure a structure does not collapse contrary to construction regulations.

Stewart Swain and his company Swain Scaffolding Ltd were convicted of a failure to discharge a duty contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Swain – who was a close friend and golfing partner of the deceased – and Young were acquitted by the jury of the more serious charge of gross negligence manslaughter.

Both Swain and Young were sentenced on Wednesday at Cardiff Crown Court . They appeared alongside Phil Thomas, a health and safety adviser from South Wales Safety Consultancy Ltd, and Richard Dean, from NJP Consultant Engineers Ltd. Both Thomas and Dean admitted failing to discharge a duty. The men were sentenced as follows:

Before passing the sentences Mrs Justice Dame Nerys Jefford said: "Mr Plevey was described by witnesses at trial as an excellent scaffolder – one of the best. He was obviously popular with his workmates. He died doing his job – a job he enjoyed and excelled at. He was a family man and his family miss him deeply."

The judge said the "overarching" cause of death was the failure to stabilise the wall. She rejected the prosecution's description of Young as "cavalier" but said he could be criticised for failing to notice the errors.

She found Swain made "errors of neglect rather than wilful blindness". The court heard Swain is a carer for his ill wife and he was left "distraught" by the death of his friend Mr Plevey.

Mrs Justice Jefford said Thomas "could have given advice that no further work should be done until the safety of the site was verified". She noted Mr Plevey's death had a "profound" impact on his mental health and that he has left the building industry after a career "devoted to promoting health and safety".

Dean wrote to the court expressing his regret and apologies to Mr Plevey's family. The judge said: "Mr Dean had ample opportunity to advise that what had been done before he got involved was unsafe or could become unsafe."

Quantity surveyors Strongs Partnership Ltd admitted failing to discharge a duty. "Had Strongs fulfilled its duty as principal designer there is a real possibility the various parties involved would have focused on the condition of the wall," said Mrs Justice Jefford.

Concluding her remarks she said: "I am left with the firm impression that no-one said anything because they assumed everything was fine and no-one said any differently. What happened on the site exemplified the tragedy that can occur if this approach is taken on construction sites."

She issued the following fines:

The judge also imposed prosecution costs of £66,000 for Young, £17,500 for South Wales Safety Consultancy, £20,000 for Thomas, £17,500 for Strongs, £20,000 for Dean, £25,000 for Swain Scaffolding, and £6,700 for NJP.

The owner of the Citadel church, Mark Gulley from Penarth and his company Amos Projects Ltd, along with Richard Lyons from Bristol and his firm Optima Scaffold Design Solutions Ltd, were found not guilty of all charges at trial.

Senior crown prosecutor Catrin Attwell said the Crown Prosecution Service worked closely with the police and Health and Safety Executive to draw together a large amount of complex evidence in the case.

She said: "The demolition of the church was dangerous work and the Health and Safety Act and regulations are designed to make dangerous work as safe as is possible. It places duties on employers to ensure the safety of employees and others who may be affected by their work.

"Mr Plevey’s untimely death was tragic and our thoughts remain with his family who have shown tremendous strength, dignity, and patience throughout the course of the investigation and prosecution."

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