Dad hits out at ‘joke’ £40,000 fine for Chestnut Homes after health and safety breach in bricklayer death case

Court news.
Court news.

The father of a bricklayer who died on a Chestnut Homes construction site has described the firm’s £40,000 fine for punishment as a ‘joke’.

The firm was handed the punishment today at Lincoln Crown Court after admitting breaching health and safety laws following the death of Justin Gillman, who fell from unguarded scaffolding.

The 26-year-old was crushed to death after he walked backwards off the six foot high scaffolding platform with his 175 kilo load of bricks.

Chestnut Homes Ltd denied being a significant cause of Mr Gillman’s death but pleaded guilty to exposing workers to a risk following a Health and Safety Executive investigation.

The company’s site manager Peter Tute, 49, of Woodvale Close, Lincoln, admitted failing to discharge a duty of an employee at work to other persons following Mr Gillman’s death in February 2010.

He received a community order with 240 hours of unpaid work.

Speaking after the hearing Alan Gillman, 58, the father of Justin Gillman, said: “They could have pleaded guilty long ago but they didn’t and that has added to the stress on us.

“The sentences are a joke. Isn’t life cheap at a price of £40,000 and 240 hours community work?

“Things are so tight for work in the construction industry. How many others are carrying out jobs they are not qualified to do. How many more building sites are there where things like this are happening? When it does happen it is too late for the person who has lost their life.”

Justin Gillman, from Holland Fen, died on February 26 2010 while working at the Chestnut Homes construction site at The Chase in Skegness.

The court was told he was walking backwards along a scaffolding platform pulling a load of bricks when he fell to his death.

Timothy Green, prosecuting for the HSE, said Tute asked Mr Gillman and his work mate Philip Hampstead to build the scaffolding platform when he should have brought in the company’s scaffolding contractors.

Mr Green told the court Mr Tute failed to give the two men any instructions or ask if they had any experience building scaffolding.

“He relied on them to do their best,” Mr Green said. “They did their best but it wasn’t good enough as the death of Mr Gillman demonstrated.”

Mr Green added: “It was literally an accident waiting to happen.”

“We do not know exactly the physical cause of him going over the edge. He may simply have forgotten he had gone near the edge of his platform.

“If a guard rail had been present then he would not have gone off the edge, but it wasn’t.

“He fell off and was crushed to death with the bricks landing on him.”

Despite the efforts of his colleagues Mr Gillman, who won a prize at the Lincolnshire Show for his bricklaying, died. His girlfriend, Laura, was still at work when she learnt of his death.

In an emotional victim impact statement which was read out in court she said: “I just sat and cried my eyes out, the day my world ended.

“We had planned to get married. Justin was my one love and soul mate. We were discussing children and choosing names.”

In a second statement Mr Gillman’s father, Alan, said the family’s life had been put on hold since the accident.

Christopher Kennedy QC , mitigating for Chestnut Homes, said the company had pleaded guilty on a limited basis and admitted three failings.

Mr Kennedy said the company accepted it did not provide any dedicated site manager training until after the accident, there was a lack of clarity with the company’s safety advisers over monitoring Mr Tute and monthly checks of the scaffolding, and that there should have been better scrutiny over site manager’s invoices.

“We invite you to see this as a case of an unauthorised act of an employee,” Mr Kennedy said. “There is very limited culpability on the company themselves.”

The court heard Chestnut Homes managing director David Newton wrote a letter reminding all employees of the importance of health and safety following Mr Gillman’s death and ordered a review of scaffolding.

“Until this accident there were no prohibition or improvement notices. That is practical evidence Chestnut Homes were doing something right.”

The court heard despite making a turnover of £10 million Chestnut Homes was a company trading at a “moderate loss” in difficult economic conditions.

“It is a family run business, it sees itself as people centered,” Mr Kennedy added.

“This company was set up in the right way, save for very specific and rare exceptions.”

Christopher Donnellan QC, for Tute, said his client regretted making a misjudgement and was sorry.

“He knows and deeply feels he is responsible in that way for the loss of somebody who was so dear to those whose statements have been read out.

“He co-operated when he was required to do so and he did not hide or withhold any information.

“This accident came about because of a combination of good intention and good will.

“The intention of Mr Tute was to protect the gap between the buildings while the jousts were being put in. It was a small simple structure to be put between the two buildings. The good will was that Justin Gillman said yes.”

Mr Donnellan said that Tute was a man of previous good character and had been affected by what happened.

“It has been a very difficult time for him. It has weighed heavily upon him.”

Judge Michael Heath, passing sentence, said: “The scaffolding Justin Gillman fell from was obviously unsafe. It was an accident waiting to happen.”

The Judge said that the bricklayers agreed to put up the scaffolding “because they were co-operative and industrious individuals”

“It was not to save money. It was because it was convenient to get them to do that rather than to bring back the scaffolding contractors who had been instructed in the first place.

“This is a responsible company. It has a substantial business.”