Here’s a tragic case of a young man who was killed when a wall collapsed on him. His gaffer was a man of good character who didn’t mean anyone any harm. He got three years
I have seen a picture of the old 7ft-high wall - or rather a picture of it once it had toppled over, smashing into an adjacent garage. Much worse, the lad working on the brick-by-brick taking down of that confounded wall was killed instantly, crushed between wall and garage. The victim, Adam Gosling, was 15. His brother Dean, was 18; he was also there. Both worked as labourers for Colin Holton who traded as Maldon Groundworks. Holton was subcontracted to Romford-based Soneca Systems, run by Darren Fowler, to carry out a refurbishment project at an outdoor swimming pool; it was an ordinary job. Adam’s brother and his family will grieve forever. At the Old Bailey, Holton got three years in prison, Fowler one year. The Court of Appeal upheld the sentence when Holton appealed the three years.
What sort of bloke is this 64-year-old ground worker? The Court of Appeal said: “Colin Holton was of previous good character. There was before the Old Bailey judge testaments as to his good character.” That, said the court, “is a common feature of offences of this sort. It is an offence committed by a hard-working, law-abiding person who is not normally seen in the criminal courts.” And I bet he has been in the building industry for years and does good work, but as for health and safety, well, it’s just stuff that has passed him by - as it does lots of others.
I bet he has been a builder for years but health and safety is just stuff that has passed him by as it does lots of others
The homeowners decided to have the old pool house demolished and rebuilt. The main contractor sublet the demolition and groundworks to Holton. He took on the two youngsters, paying £25 a day for Adam and £35 for Dean. Adam had left school, said he was 16 and was a keen worker. Behind the now demolished pool house was the 7ft high, 22ft long boundary wall. It had a crack in it from top to bottom. When putting in the new foundations for the pool, a whacker plate was used to compact hardcore. It probably aggravated the defect in the wall. In any event, it was sensibly decided to take it all down. The brothers were told to take it down course by course. Dressed in jeans, T-shirts and trainers, they got stuck in. No sign of hard hats or steel-capped boots; just a sledgehammer and a Kango. Holton went to the front of the house to do some other things, leaving them unsupervised. Nothing by way of a risk assessment document existed. The wall began to lean. The older brother tried to hold the top to stop it falling. Adam ran to get Holton. For some reason he didn’t come mmediately. Adam ran back to help his brother. He tried to push the wall back up. You can almost feel the panic. The wall toppled; Adam couldn’t run. He died from severe head injuries.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and police investigations reported that “had there been proper supervision, this accident would not have occurred”. But the point is, Holton and the main contractor ought to have recognised the dangerous condition of the wall and used a wholly different method for taking it down. It is manslaughter by omission; gross negligence.
The Old Bailey judge said of Holton: “You adopted a cavalier and thoroughly irresponsible attitude to the brothers’ safety while they were under your control.” A guilty plea reduced a four-year sentence to three.The case went from the Old Bailey to the Court of Appeal (which included Lord Judge, the lord chief justice) because cases in which there was a death in the workplace had not hitherto led to such lengthy prison sentences. Suspended sentences and sentences of 10 or 15 months were the norm. But from last year, the lord chief justice said previous guidelines were to be ignored. Courts should focus on the harm caused as well as the offender’s culpability. Dean Gosling was within feet of his 15-year-old kid brother being crushed to death. The impact on their family needs no telling. The life lost is priceless.
Building work is done by all sorts of builder people; many have never heard of risk assessments or accident books or the HSE. They don’t join institutions or trade bodies.
We don’t reach them. And if we make an example by banging up Holton, we still won’t reach and stop ordinary people of good character who don’t mean to harm anyone, but commit it anyway.
This article was originally published under the headline: ’The wall’