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Didcot collapse: Coleman ‘clear’ on cause

1 February 2018 | By Will Mann

The boiler house collapsed in February 2016 (Pete Lusabia/Alamy Stock Photo)

The demolition contractor at the centre of the Didcot Power Station tragedy of almost two years ago says its own investigations “clearly” show the cause of the fatal accident.

Four workers were killed during demolition work on the plant, where Coleman & Company was one of the contractors employed, when it partially collapsed on 23 February 2016. 

At a pre-inquest review at Oxford Coroner’s Court on 31 January, Thames Valley Police (TVP) said its joint investigation with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had taken more than 1,900 witness statements so far – but is still ongoing with no estimated completion date.

Coleman & Company director James Howard said the contractor has commissioned its own investigations into the accident.

He said: “In our view, [the investigations] clearly show why and how units 1 and 2 of the boiler house collapsed. We believe the findings highlight industry-wide practices that need to be challenged and reviewed.”

Howard said the contractor was continuing to work with the police and HSE “to understand the cause of the collapse, provide justice for the families, and learn lessons for the industry”.

He said the firm had “received a formal disclosure from the police that seeks to support their position that all possible breaches of health and safety legislation, including corporate manslaughter, remain under investigation”.

Howard added: “Our investigation team and legal advisers share a view that the disclosure provided by the police so far gives no grounds to suggest that we or any of our employees have acted in a way which would associate us with a manslaughter investigation.

“What is more, it is clear that Thames Valley Police and the HSE have not yet crystallised a view on the cause of the collapse.”

Detective chief inspector Craig Kirby, who is leading the investigation for TVP and HSE, said: “We continue to carry out a thorough investigation in order to obtain answers for the affected families and friends who lost their loved ones, and those who were injured following the partial collapse at Didcot.

“This is an extremely wide scale and hugely complex investigation. To date over 1,900 witness statements have been taken by the investigative team, and a number of interviews have been conducted under caution.

“The team continues to meet with a specialist dedicated prosecutor from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to ensure that all lines of enquiry are being appropriately and robustly explored.

“At this time, it is not possible for us to put a timeframe on the completion of the investigation, however an initial file was submitted to the CPS at the end of December for investigative advice.”

The police said that onsite recovery of evidence continues to be a key line of enquiry, to understand why the boiler house collapsed.

“Clearance of boilers one and two has been completed, and independent contractors continue to clear boilers three and four,” said Kirby. “This work is expected to be completed by spring 2018.

“The site remains a crime scene with a 24/7 police scene guard.”

Howard said that Coleman & Company wanted to share the findings of its investigations “as a matter of urgency, so that immediate steps can be taken within the industry to prevent future loss of life and so that the families can begin to understand what caused this dreadful accident.

“We will therefore shortly be writing to the TVP and HSE investigation team, together with the Oxfordshire Senior Coroner, setting out our position and providing access to the preliminary findings from our investigations.”

Howard added: “I want to say again to the families of our deceased colleagues how deeply sorry we are for their loss and the hurt they continue to experience. The loss of Chris, John, Kenny and Mick has been felt deeply by everyone at Coleman & Company and this tragic accident has had a profound effect on the health and well-being of many of us over the past two years.”

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