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Tragic death of grandad Thomas Houston who was crushed by caravan could have been avoided, says family

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 28/07/2015

Thomas Houston, his son David and grandson Ashton
Thomas Houston, his son David and grandson Ashton

The family of a grandfather who was crushed after a caravan collapsed on him have said his death could have been avoided.

Thomas Houston suffered severe chest injuries after the accident at Silvercove Holiday Park in Kilkeel.

An investigation found a series of breaches in health and safety procedures.

His family said the tragedy, which took place in 2012, should never have happened.

A statement issued via a solicitor said: "Had the most basic of health and safety measures been put in place by the deceased's employer, it could not have happened. Tragically that was not the case."

Yesterday an inquest at Newry Coroners' Court heard that Mr Houston was moving a caravan at the site at Leystone Road on February 22, 2012, when the tragedy occurred.

The 50-year-old, from Rooney Park in Kilkeel, worked as a maintenance caretaker.

The caravan was being moved to another location when one of its wheels buckled, causing it to topple.

Mr Houston and a colleague tried to raise the caravan using two bottle jacks - a compact hydraulic piston that can lift heavy objects.

One jack was removed to shift it to a more central position, but as Mr Houston got underneath the caravan, the supporting jack slipped, causing the caravan to topple, trapping him.

He was taken to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry where he was pronounced dead.

A report by Dr Alastair Bentley, the deputy state pathologist, concluded death was caused by severe chest injuries.

Richard Griffin, a colleague of the deceased, had been helping to move the caravan. He recalled the moments after the collapse.

"I heard Kenny (Crutchley, a co-worker who was driving the tractor) yell my name," he said in a statement read to the inquest. "I went back and saw that the caravan had come down on top of Tom, trapping him face down."

A subsequent report by Sinead Trainor, a senior health and safety officer at the former Newry and Mourne District Council, referred to numerous breaches of safety legislation. These included lack of a safe system of work procedures, no risk assessments in place, inadequate information, instruction, training and supervision for staff, and failure to mark safe work loads on the two bottle jacks.

Ms Trainor's report concluded: "The absence of risk assessments and safety systems at work demonstrates that the employer did not ensure the health and safety and welfare of all his employees." Coroner John Leckey remarked: "None of that makes happy reading.

"It raises very, very serious matters that would require to be addressed immediately, I would have thought, bearing in mind that at the present time we're in the middle of the caravan season."

However, Ms Trainor confirmed that immediate steps had been taken to address safety issues at the site in the wake of Mr Houston's death.

A legal representative for the managing director of the park, Newry man Alan Milne, told the hearing: "I can confirm that every employee - not only at Silvercove but at Mr Milne's other caravan parks - has now participated in CITO (caravan industry) training."

In March, Mr Milne admitted one of his firms caused the death of Mr Houston through a "gross breach" of its duty of care.

An inquest jury found that Mr Houston's death could have been prevented by having proper risk assessment and training in place.

In a statement issued via solicitors Francis Hanna & Co, the Houston family said their lives had changed forever.

"Since that day, life has not been the same for Mr Houston's wife Zelda and their children Natasha, Nathan and David together with three grandchildren Ashton, Jai and Natalia who have lost a beloved husband, father, grandfather and best friend," it said.

Urging employers not to ignore basic health and safety practices, the statement added: "Mrs Zelda Houston and her family sincerely hope that what they have endured will not be visited upon any other family."

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