A builder has been jailed for two years after he left an inexperienced labourer inside a house demolishing a chimney which collapsed sending piles of masonry down killing him.
Leeds Crown Court heard Daniel Hough, 23, had only gone to work for Nigel Parker that day because he was short of labour. He had no qualifications in the construction industry but was an eager worker.
Alistair MacDonald QC prosecuting said Parker had left him in a first floor bedroom at the address in Thorncliffe Estate, Batley on July 25, 2013 while he went to a meeting about another job.
The chimney was to come down so an extension could be built at the address and the demolition had begun the previous day “in a grossly negligent manner.”
He said Mr Hough was left working with a hammer drill hired that day to continue the work when around 2.15pm members of the family still inside the house and bricklayers working outside suddenly heard a huge bang.
“It was part of the upper chimney collapsing, tragically Mr Hough was buried under two tonnes of masonry. He was killed instantly.”
Mr MacDonald said an engineer estimated it was the equivalent of being struck by a Ford Focus motor car.
Examination of the scene later revealed that by demolishing the chimney “in effect half way up without supporting the upper part of the chimney placed anyone in the vicinity in danger.”
He told the court the court demolishing it in that way had so weakened it that there was nothing to stop the upper part from “crashing down.”
There were safe ways of ensuring the removal such as the erection of scaffolding or an employee on a cherry picker starting at the top but that had not been done by Parker in this case.
“Why he did this is unclear, only he knows. It may be the case what was happening here was a cutting of corners in an attempt to save money and time.”
He said when interviewed Parker had denied any substantial demolition of the chimney had started and said Mr Hough was just going to sweep up rubble.
Mr MacDonald said that was not accepted and that Mr Hough had been using a hammer drill on instructions when the chimney toppled on him.
Those in the house were also put at risk. Only minutes earlier the daughter of the householder had offered Mr Hough a cup of tea and was only in the next room when the collapse happened, while her grandmother was in the room below the bedroom.
Parker, 56 previously of Kirkgate, Sherburn-in-Elmet admitted gross negligence manslaughter and two breaches of health and safety regulations.
Lisa Roberts representing him said he had suffered a mental breakdown since the tragedy and had spent time in a psychiatric unit.
Sentencing Parker Mr Justice Macduff said it was a very sad case for everybody involved, life changing both for him and for the family of Mr Hough.
“What you did is almost unbelievable. It goes beyond incompetence, carelessness and thoughtlessness. You allowed Danny Hough to use a powerful Kango hammer to demolish brickwork from a chimney breast which was supporting a heavier part of the chimney structure above it. Any modicum of thought would have told you that support was necessary.”
“This you authorised and you left him to his own devices. You will always have to live with the knowledge that you were responsible for this unlawful killing.”
“You have lost your job, your good name and your self-esteem. You are weighed down with a sense of guilt - and rightly so.”
The judge said he accepted he had required psychiatric treatment since, had lost all his savings and lived rough for a time. “Already you have suffered significant punishment for your offence.”
“I know you are truly sorry and that you would - in concert with everybody else - do whatever you could to put the clock back if that were possible.”
“You did not set out that day to put people at risk let alone to cause death. And I accept that if you had not been called away when you were, there is every chance that you would have been working in the same situation as the deceased man and would have likely died with him.”
But he said his actions had caused bereavement to Mr Hough’s wife, mother and his small baby. “My heart goes out to those who have suffered from the loss of this excellent young man.”
After the case, Det Supt Jon Morgan said: “Nigel Parker took a risk and Daniel Hough paid for that risk with his life. His death was a tragedy, not least because it could have been avoided if Mr Parker had fulfilled his duty of care to his employees. It is by sheer luck that other people, including the occupants of the house, avoided injury
“Today’s sentence serves as a reminder to employers and businesses that cutting corners with regard to health and safety has serious consequences - it ruins the lives of individuals and families and will result in criminal proceedings where appropriate.
“Our thoughts are with Mr Hough’s family and we hope that they are able to rebuild their lives without him and take some comfort that justice has been served.”
Health and Safety Inspector Andrew Denison said: “This was a tragic incident that could have been easily avoided. Mr Parker was responsible for multiple and serious failings and reckless breaches of the law.
“The dangerous methods he used to remove the chimney created a serious and foreseeable risk of death or serious injury. He started removing the chimney part way up in the first floor bedroom and had no control measures in place to prevent the chimney collapsing.
“Daniel Hough was only 23 and an inexperienced construction worker. Mr Parker had never met him until the day of this incident but left him working unsupervised with an unstable structure while he visited another site.
“There was a clear and obvious risk of death to Mr Hough which Mr Parker simply ignored”.