Belfast Telegraph

Gas fitter's lapse led to deaths of teens in fume-filled flat, court told

BY PAUL HIGGINS

Two teenagers died from gas poisoning because a fitter did not take the time to fit four small screws.

Earlier this week gas fitter George Brown (51) became the first person here to admit charges of corporate manslaughter by causing the deaths of best friends Aaron Davidson and Neil McFerran from carbon monoxide poisoning in a Castlerock apartment in August 2010.

Along with another friend, Matthew Gaw, who survived the incident, the 18-year-olds had gone away for a few days before getting their A-Level results.

It can now be revealed that the deaths could have been avoided if Brown – who wasn't qualified to convert the gas boiler in the first place – put an extra four screws in place to fix the flue pipe.

During earlier court proceedings it was revealed that the deadly gas leaked into the holiday apartment when the flue pipe came apart in the roof space, but had Brown fixed it to a joist with four self-tapping screws, the deaths would have been avoided.

"He told police during interview that it would have taken about five minutes for those screws to be put in place," prosecuting lawyer Roseanne McCormick told Coleraine Magistrates Court, adding: "The integrity of this joint was compromised for the want of a five-minute exercise."

The court also heard that among a litany of mistakes Brown:

  •  Did not know the chemical symbols for carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide.
  •  Was not properly registered with Gas Safe to convert a gas boiler.
  •  Was using out-of-date sensors designed for different gas.
  •  Had not properly converted the boiler from natural gas to LPG.

For Aaron's mum Katrina, the death of her son, who would have turned 22 next week, meant the family had "lost part of our lives completely and will never, ever be the same again".

"We have to move on for my daughter and grandchildren's sake but life doesn't get any easier.

"I just try to deal with it in different ways, but there are always reminders that bring it all back," said Katrina.

"His room is in the roof space but it's still sitting the same way. I've not been in it since it happened – I just cannot do it.

"Aaron had so many plans for the future and that's been so cruelly taken away. He was going to go to Queen's to do engineering."

Katrina refused to criticise or comment on Brown's standard of work, saying only that "it's unbelievable how it happened". She added: "I don't think about what he did or didn't do, I just know that he didn't do the work to his full capacity."

The court had heard that Brown was to have converted the boiler from running on natural gas to LPG and to have fitted the flue pipe at the Castlerock apartment, but that he did not properly convert the boiler and did not properly fit the flue pipe, the fracturing of which had such tragic consequences.

It was revealed that when investigators from the Health and Safety Executive went to the scene and fired the boiler, the machines used to test carbon monoxide levels "went off the scale", giving readings of 999.99 parts per million.

Ms McCormick further revealed that HSE officers had to evacuate the apartment because it filled with the deadly gas within half-an-hour of the boiler being fired up.

When the job was finished, Brown told the landlady her apartment was "warm and safe", but the court heard that he should have used gas meter readers to test levels.

The gas detectors he had, however, were out-of-date and were useless as they were not designed for use with LPG.

Brown, from Ballygawley Road, Aghadowey, was not properly registered to do a boiler conversion.

FACTFILE

As well as the charges of corporate manslaughter, which carry a maximum of life imprisonment, Brown also admitted a further 19 charges involving failures in health and safety legislation.

Those charges related not just to the holiday home in Castlerock where Neil and Aaron died, but also other private properties as well as a restaurant and caravan park in the north west area.

 They included failure to protect non-employees, failing to ensure those fitting gas appliances were qualified, and incorrectly fitting and failing to test that appliances were correctly connected. He will be sentenced next month.

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