Belfast Telegraph

Carbon monoxide deaths: Gas fitter finally admits blame for the deaths of teenagers in fume-filled flat

BY CHRIS KILPATRICK AND RORY CARSON

The parents of two teenagers killed in a gas leak more than three years ago wept and hugged one another after a tradesman finally admitted he was to blame for their deaths.

Friends Neil McFerran and Aaron Davidson – both 18 – were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes at a Castlerock apartment on August 3, 2010. They were found by their parents who raced to the seaside village when they were unable to contact the teenagers.

The young men from Newtownabbey had been enjoying a break ahead of receiving their A-Level exam results.

Their friend Matthew Gaw, who was also in the seaside apartment at the time, survived.

Gas fitter George Brown, who had carried out work to the apartment's heating system, yesterday admitted his guilt in the manslaughter of the teens.

He did so having consistently denied any wrongdoing previously.

His admission – marking the first conviction of its kind in Northern Ireland – came just a week before he was due to stand trial for the deaths.

Brown (52), from Ballygawley Road, Aghadowey, had initially pleaded not guilty to the charges of manslaughter. The former owner of The Calor Shop in Coleraine also denied a further 19 charges relating to breaches of health and safety legislation.

At Laganside Court yesterday, defence for Brown asked judge Mr Justice Weir for the charges to be put to his client again.

He pleaded guilty to all 21, including the manslaughter of the former Glengormley High School prefects.

Although no details were given out in the courthouse, it was previously stated the work was carried out across the north coast in the months before the tragedy.

This work not only involved the holiday home, but 14 other premises, including homes, a restaurant and a caravan park.

After Brown pleaded guilty, Crown prosecutor Frank O'Donoghue QC told Mr Justice Weir: "This is a case where victim impact reports will be obtained in respect of the families of the two deceased, and of a third young man who was seriously injured in this tragic incident."

Brown's barrister Jonpaul Shields confirmed pre-sentence reports would also be sought on behalf of his client.

Both sets of parents, and those of Matthew Gaw, hugged outside the court afterwards.

Police welcomed Brown's guilty plea. Detective Chief Inspector Rachel Shields said: "The Police Service of Northern Ireland has worked closely with the Health and Safety Executive and the families and friends of Aaron and Neil to bring this case before the courts.

"Aaron and Neil's deaths were tragic and prompted a wide-scale rigorous investigation on August 3, 2010, involving members of the Health and Safety Executive NI's gas safety inspection team, its major investigations team, its scientific services unit and officers from the PSNI's criminal investigation department.

"This investigation culminated in today's guilty plea.

"Over the course of the last three years the families of Aaron and Neil have sought to highlight the issue of carbon monoxide poisoning.

"It is an issue that all households should be aware of and I would remind service providers who work with installing heating systems or maintaining heating systems of the legal requirements and responsibilities that govern this area of business."

Brown was released on bail and will be sentenced in March.

A spokesman for Calor Gas said: "In the case of George Brown, who was trading as The Calor Shop, Coleraine, Mr Brown's business was a separate legal entity from Calor Gas NI Ltd."

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