Storm Doris: Health And Safety Court Case

1 July 2019, 16:14 | Updated: 1 July 2019, 16:18

Tahnie Martin Storm Doris Wolverhampton victim 2

Tahnie Martin died in 2017 after she was hit by a wooden panel torn off the roof of the Mander Shopping Centre in Wolverhampton.

A company which admitted breaching health and safety laws after a woman was killed by debris blown off a building roof by Storm Doris oversaw "serious" maintenance failings, a court heard.

Tahnie Martin, 29, from Stafford, was struck by a wooden panel which had been torn from its "rotten" fixings on the roof of the Mander Shopping Centre, in Wolverhampton, in February 2017.

An inquest previously concluded a plant room on top of the roof, from which the panel was ripped away, may not have been maintained for nearly two decades.

Cushman Wakefield Debenham Tie Leung Ltd, which was the managing agent responsible for centre maintenance at the time, had already admitted breaches of health and safety rules.

At a two-day sentencing hearing beginning Monday, Mrs Justice Carr heard the company's centre operations manager Phil Dutton, whose job it was to oversee maintenance, had "assumed" the plant roof had been "flat".

Three other surveys, conducted in 2014, 2015 and 2016, by outside contractors, also made "no reference" to structures on its roof, a barrister for the company said.

A full inspection of the surrounding roof space carried out after Miss Martin's death recorded "over 50 recommendations for urgent action, which otherwise had health and safety implications", prosecuting barrister, Bernard Thorogood told Wolverhampton Crown Court.

He said it was the Crown's case the firm had overseen "systemic" and "serious" failings, though the company has said at the time it believed it had "robust" maintenance procedures in place.

Miss Martin, who was employed at University of Wolverhampton, had recently become engaged when she died on February 23.

Her parents Jim and Rosie were in court to hear the opening of the case against the building management firm.

It was calculated up to 90 people had passed the area where Miss Martin was struck, around the time the incident happened.

Following the incident, two health and safety improvement notices for "urgent" remedial works were issued to the company.

Prosecutors said the building agent's maintenance regime had fallen "far short" in upkeep of the 3ft by 5ft plant room building.

Attached to the brick plant room was a redundant water tank, covered by a wooden panel, where fixtures and fittings had fallen into "poor" condition, prosecutors said.

Opening the case, MrThorogood said: "Both the vent hood structure and two panels from the top of the water tank structure flew off because the fixings which would have kept them fast to brick structure, to which they were supposed to remain attached, were rotten."

The panels had been torn off by gusts of up to 59mph, with one section hitting Miss Martin, while another woman Ramal Sarpal was also injured by the debris.

Mr Thorogood said: "Those injuries were caused because the structures that should have been kept in sound condition because of regular decoration of wooden fittings.

"They were not brought into account by the defendant company, as they were either not noticed by those who should have, or not taken on board."

He added that company supervision of Mr Dutton and others "cannot have been up to the mark".

Mr Thorogood said a meteorological expert reported Storm Doris's wind strength fell "in the middle order" of such winter weather systems.

An analysis of the old paint layers found on the rotted wooden "pads" fixing the water tank panels, found the last protective coat had been applied as far back as 1998.

An independent inspection concluded the pads were full of "wet rot" and found "any reasonably competent person responsible for the maintenance of buildings would have been aware" of their condition.

The report added that the solution would have been giving them a fresh coat of paint every five years.

There was also evidence of "very significant rot" provided in images dating to 2015-16.

Mr Thorogood said a routine of inspections "were not always happening" or, when carried out, were "not always documented".

Mr Dutton said in a statement he had never noticed anything on top of the plant room roof.

He said: "I assumed it was a flat roof with no structures upon it and have no recollection of ever seeing any structures."

Mr Dutton also said he had not issued any special roof working permits, covering specific health and safety-related tasks, in the six years prior to the incident.

Barrister Eleanor Sanderon, representing the £141 million turnover company, said: "The company did believe that it had robust, effective and compliant systems and they relied on competent consultants."

She added: "At its heart is acknowledged the failure to risk assess those structures present on the plant room roof."

She added there had been "wholesale changes" to its health and safety procedures since the incident.

In a statement read to court, the company's chief executive, Colin Wilson, said he expressed his "deepest and unreserved apology and condolences" to Miss Martin's family, fiance and friends, and all those affected.

The company, which is facing a significant fine, will be sentenced on Tuesday.