Comment – No end in sight

At noon today, a pre-inquest review of the Didcot disaster is scheduled to be heard at the Coroner’s Court in Oxfordshire.

That review comes 1,974 days after a part of the boiler house at the Didcot A Power Station collapsed while undergoing demolition.
Four demolition men lost their lives that day.

And it is to the eternal shame of the UK authorities that the families of Michael Collings, Ken Cresswell, Christopher Huxtable and John Shaw are still waiting for answers.

Sadly, I fear that today’s hearing – which has been allocated just 30 minutes of court time – will provide neither clarity nor closure.

Now if you’re thinking we’ve been here before, you’re absolutely right. There was an inquest back in January 2018 that said the incident could be the subject of a manslaughter case.

Three and a half years later, and there’s now to be a pre-inquest review.

We know from previous police statements that investigators have been looking through thousands of items of evidence and collating hundreds of witness statements.

So even if today’s planned hearing announced that a court case was about to commence – and I very much doubt that it will – we would be looking at months for the various prosecutors and defendants to prepare their respective cases.

And then, assuming it does finally and belatedly come to court, any court case will take an eternity while all this evidence is laid before a jury that knows precisely nothing about demolition.

That means that any findings that might be of benefit to the hundreds of demolition contractors around the world charged with taking down the remaining 1,000 or more fossil fuelled power stations will remain bogged down in red tape.

Coleman and Company – the demolition contractor involved in the Didcot demolition – has already carried out its own investigation and believes that “industry-wide practices that need to be challenged and reviewed”.

Speaking after the inquest in January 2018, a Coleman and Company spokesman said: “We now consider it essential to share this learning 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.”

Three and a half years later, that has still not happened.

And let’s not forget that, as we have previously reported, US authorities investigated, prosecuted and closed a very similar case in 17 months.

From the moment the boiler house came down, the Health and Safety Executive should have had three priorities: recovering the bodies of the missing men; providing the families of those men with some kind of explanation and a degree of closure; and identifying the cause of the incident to avoid it being repeated.

Instead, from the every outset, the HSE has been focused upon appointing blame and securing a successful prosecution.

That pursuit has prolonged and exacerbated the agony of the families of the four men. And it has potentially endangered the lives of demolition men and women here and around the world that are tackling the demolition of the remaining 1,000+ fossil fuelled power stations.

I am not expecting the hearing today to move us any closer to a conclusion.