Yesterday’s pre-inquest hearing on the investigation into the Didcot Disaster proved to be yet another false dawn for the families of the four men killed at the Didcot A Power Station back in February 2016.
It also means that the global demolition industry must continue to wait to learn the true cause of the boiler house collapse and potentially save the lives of demolition workers currently charged with carrying out similar work.
Thames Valley Police says officers are still looking into whether charges of corporate manslaughter, gross negligence manslaughter or offences under 1974 health and safety legislation should be brought against the companies and individuals involved.
In a statement read to Oxford Coroner’s Court yesterday afternoon, senior investigating officer Detective Superintendent Craig Kirby said his team had so far taken 2,429 witness statements and collected 180,000 ‘artefacts’.
Individuals and companies suspected of committing alleged offences have been interviewed under caution and, because of the complexity of the case, would likely be interviewed again.
“Given the complexity and scale of this investigation as described previously, I am unable to provide a completion date for this work,” the police officer said.
Concluding the pre-inquest review, senior coroner Darren Salter said he would review the case in six months’ time.
All of which is nothing short of a disgrace. Directly or otherwise – demolition inflicted the first blow upon the families of the four men.
Regardless of the findings of this interminable investigation, the four men – Michael Collings, Ken Cresswell, Christopher Huxtable and John Shaw – were working in demolition at the time.
Regardless of the eventual findings, those four men went to work in a demolition environment and never made it home.
But if demolition inflicted the first blow, then the investigating authorities have inflicted every subsequent blow, every subsequent injury and ounce of suffering.
From the time it took to recover the bodies of Michael Collings, Ken Cresswell, Christopher Huxtable and John Shaw, to the prolonged silences, the annual and meaningless updates and the reviews into reviews, it is as if the authorities are deliberately prolonging the agony of those four families.
That is the greatest tragedy.
But if there is something within those 180,000 artefacts – some piece of twisted metal or fallen debris that might point to a shortcoming in perceived industry best practice – then the police, the Health and Safety Executive and anyone else involved in this protracted and bloated investigation is complicit in placing other demolition men and women at risk.
This investigation has failed. It has failed the demolition industry; and it has failed the nation. It has failed four grieving families that deserved much, much better and that have surely now suffered enough.
Worst of all, it has failed the memory of four working men who died – avoidably and tragically – while providing for those families.