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Jury decides death of four men on Great Yarmouth building site was accidental - but criminal prosecutions still possible

PUBLISHED: 06:30 15 February 2014

Claxton Engineering, where four men died in January 2011. Photo: James Bass.

Claxton Engineering, where four men died in January 2011. Photo: James Bass.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011

Four men killed when a steel cage collapsed at a Great Yarmouth building site died as the result of an accident, an inquest has found.

Thomas Hazelton who died in the Claxton Engineering accident at Great Yarmouth with baby Alfie;Thomas Hazelton who died in the Claxton Engineering accident at Great Yarmouth with baby Alfie;

Loved ones said they will “never be able to come to terms with [their] devastating loss”, and firms are still facing criminal prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Jurors returned a unanimous verdict of accidental death on the fifth day of the inquest at Sprowston Manor, near Norwich, yesterday,

Brothers Dan and Tom Hazelton, 30 and 26, and friends Adam Taylor, 28, and Peter Johnson, 42, died on January 21, 2011.

The west Suffolk men had been constructing a steel cage to reinforce the concrete foundations of a high pressure test bay at Claxton Engineering, in North River Road.

Adam Taylor who died in the Claxton Engineering accident at Great Yarmouth;Adam Taylor who died in the Claxton Engineering accident at Great Yarmouth;

They were inside the cage, which was inside a 2m-deep trench the length of a tennis court, and were fixing steel above their heads when it collapsed.

A total of 39 tonnes of steel and 330 tonnes of concrete would have been used in the completed structure.

Coroner Jacqueline Lake told jurors that they had heard some “complex and technical” evidence, but the inquest was fact-finding, not fault-finding, and they must not apportion blame.

She stressed it was not their job to decide if the company that designed the cage - Scott Wilson Group - had given enough detail in plans, if the right health and safety steps had been taken or if the men, who worked for Hazegood, had worked in line with an “adequate” method statement.

Statement from the families of the four deceased men

We will never be able to come to terms with our devastating loss; four men went to work that day and never came home again.

The evidence clearly showed that Dan, Tom, Peter and Adam were conscientious and skilled workers and no concerns were raised about the steel work they were doing.

We hope the Health and Safety Executive will take appropriate action against those responsible so justice is done, and that lessons will be learned to ensure such a terrible tragedy never happens again.

We would like to thank those who tried to rescue the men and for all the support we’ve received over the last three years.

Earlier in the inquest it was heard that Encompass Project Management had not employed a construction design management (CDM) co-ordinator, who would have conducted site inspections, and some health and safety forms had not been correctly filled out.

Several witnesses declined to answer questions which they feared could incriminate them.

After almost two hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of accidental death for each man.

The medical cause of death was recorded as traumatic asphyxia, and in paperwork jurors agreed the men “were working within a steel structure in an excavation at a construction site at Great Yarmouth”.

They added: “The steel structure collapsed causing fatal injuries to all four men.”

Hannah Clarke, the solicitor representing the families of the deceased men, read a statement on their behalf.

It noted the men were “conscientious and skilled workers”, and expressed hope that the HSE would prosecute “those responsible” so justice is done and lessons are learned.

The four dead men had worked for family firm Hazegood, which was sub-contracted by Encompass Project Management to lay the reinforced concrete foundations for the test bays.

Julia Kendrick, for Encompass Project Management, said Encompass had stopped taking on contracts in August 2012 and is not actively trading or involved in any sites.

She added directors had attempted to dissolve the company but were forbidden from doing so by the HSE.

The company had reviewed its procedures before then, the inquest heard.

Jon Elven, of the HSE, said: “The HSE will now review the evidence in light of the inquest and decide about whether further criminal proceedings are appropriate, and will announce any decision in relation to this in due course.

“Meanwhile our thoughts remain with the families of the deceased.”

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced in February 2013 that it would bring no prosecutions after a lengthy investigation.

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