Four contractors have been given suspended prison sentences after a scaffolder was crushed to death when a church collapsed ahead of its demolition.
Jeff Plevey, 56, from Cardiff, was killed when the derelict Citadel Church in the city, collapsed as he dismantled the scaffolding surrounding it in July 2017. Contractors had been employed to demolish the church, which was adjacent to a railway line, after the building was sold to a developer.
The incident happened on the afternoon of July 18 when railway workers on the nearby Splott Bridge heard a “loud crack” and “a bang, like a small explosion”. They heard men shouting “run” before the scaffolding around the church collapsed with another “huge bang”.
The workers hurried across to find those who had escaped looking “distressed” and repeatedly saying: “Jeff is inside.” Keith Young, 74, was the contractor in charge of the demolition, while Stewart Swain, 54, was the director of the company hired to erect the scaffolding.
Both stood trial at Cardiff Crown Court accused of gross negligence manslaughter in relation to Mr Plevey’s death but were acquitted by a jury.
They were convicted of lesser health and safety offences.
Young, from Llandough, was director of Young Contractors and was found to have acted in contravention of health and safety regulations.
Swain, from Whitchurch in Cardiff, and his company Swain Scaffolding Limited, were found to be an employer in breach of their duty to an employee.
The owner of the Citadel, Mark Gulley, from Penarth, and Richard Lyons, from Bristol, were also on trial but were acquitted of all charges against them.
Mr Gulley’s company Amos Projects Limited, and Mr Lyons’ Optima Scaffold Design Solutions Ltd, also received not guilty verdicts.
Two other men, Phillip Thomas, from Cardiff, who was Young’s health and safety adviser from South Wales Safety Consultancy Ltd, and Richard Dean, of Abertillery, from NJP Consultant Engineers Ltd, had pleaded guilty to health and safety offences before the trial.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive and South Wales Police disclosed a catalogue of failings throughout the course of the demolition works.
Those convicted failed to properly acknowledge and manage the risk presented by the unstable rear wall of the church. The church on Splott Road was built in 1892 and was mainly used by the Salvation Army until it became vacant about 20 years ago and fell into disrepair.
Network Rail had commissioned a survey into the building’s condition due to its closeness to Splott Bridge, which was undergoing works as part of the electrification of the railway between Cardiff and London.
The report found the church to be in a “poor” state and the rear wall “in danger of imminent collapse”.
Although the report was shared with Mr Gulley in 2016, who in turn shared it with the contractors he hired to carry out the demolition project, when scaffolding was erected it was tethered to the unsecure rear wall, the court heard.
Andrew Langdon QC, prosecuting, said: “It was in a dilapidated condition.
“Structural engineers describe the structure of the rear wall near to the railway line as in an imminent danger of collapse.
“Given the challenge of the work and the danger presented by that wall the prosecution say there was insufficient co-ordination and oversight.”
Kate Brunner QC, representing Young, said: “We are dealing with the very tragic death of Mr Plevey and the profound effect it has had upon his family and friends.
“Through me, Mr Young expresses his deep remorse and regret.”
Peter Rouch QC, representing Swain, and Swain Scaffolding Ltd, said: “Mr Plevey had been an old friend of Mr Swain and they had played football and golf together.
“They both worked in the scaffolding industry and were good friends and what happened to Mr Plevey hit him hard.”
He said that Swain cared for his disabled wife and custody would have a “catastrophic effect” upon his family.
Young was sentenced to 45 weeks in prison suspended for 18 months and ordered to pay costs of £66,000, while Swain was sentenced to 39 weeks in prison suspended for 15 months, and his company was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay costs of £17,500.
NJP Consultant Engineers Ltd were fined £93,3000 and ordered to pay costs of £13,582.63 and its director Richard Dean sentenced to 35 weeks in prison suspended for 15 months and ordered to pay costs of £20,000.
South Wales Safety Consultancy Ltd was fined £97,000, and its director Phillip Thomas was given 36 weeks imprisonment suspended for 15 months and ordered to pay costs of £20,000.
Strongs Partnership Limited also pleaded guilty to health and safety offences before the trial and were ordered to pay a fine of £33,500 and costs of £17,500.
Judge Her Honour Mrs Justice Jefford said: “All the defendants in this case bear some responsibility for the sad and unnecessary death of Jeffrey Plevey.
“He was described by witnesses at trial as an excellent scaffolder, one of the best, and he was obviously popular with his workmates.
“He died just doing his job, the job he enjoyed and excelled in.
“He was also a family man and his family miss him deeply.
“One of the saddest features of this case is that three of the companies involved previously all had unblemished records in health and safety.
“If any one of these companies and individuals had raised a red flag, or even a concern about the performance of the others, Mr Plevey’s death could have been avoided.
“The familiarity and informality with which these parties operated led to neglect.
“What happened on this site exemplifies what can happen and the tragedies that occur if that sort of approach is taken to health and safety on construction sites.
“It is to be hoped that lessons will be learned not only by these defendants, but by the industry generally.”
Catrin Attwell, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “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.”